MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama could soon end its status as one of two U.S. states without an equal pay for equal work law.
Alabama lawmakers on Thursday approved legislation that would prohibit businesses from paying workers less than employees of another race or sex for the same work unless there are reasons such as seniority, a merit system or productivity to account for the difference.
The House of Representatives voted 99-0 to accept a Senate change to the bill. The bill now moves to Gov. Kay Ivey who will decide whether to sign it into law.
"It was high time we pass pay equity legislation in Alabama," said Democratic Rep. Adline Clarke, the bill's sponsor.
Alabama is the only U.S. state besides Mississippi to not have such legislation.
Clarke and other supporters acknowledged the legislation wasn't as strong as they would like, but she said it was "a start" toward providing state protection for workers. The legislation would give a worker two years to file a civil lawsuit in state court if they believed they had been the victim of pay discrimination.
Lilly Ledbetter, an Alabama woman whose fight to close the pay gap between women's and men's wages led to a federal law named in her honor, praised the passage of the state legislation.
"This is amazing. I never thought it would have passed, to tell you the honest truth," Ledbetter told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.
"Anything we can get passed in the state of Alabama toward this, it's a beginning. It's something to build on," Ledbetter said.
Ledbetter had worked at a Goodyear tire plant in Alabama for 19 years when she discovered via an anonymous note that she was paid less than men of the same positon.
She successfully sued Goodyear but the U.S. Supreme Court tossed out the verdict ruling that she should have filed her suit within 180 days of her first discriminatory paycheck. President Barack Obama in 2009 signed into law the "Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act" which extends the time that employees have to file claims.
Ledbetter said pay discrimination is "alive and well."