State lawmakers have passed new workplace discrimination legislation, following Senate and Assembly debate during which Republicans and at least one Democrat derided the bill as a ‘jobs killer’.
State Representative Bob Ziegelbauer, the conservative Manitowoc Democrat, said the Equal Pay Performance Act (SB-20) “creates a brand new army of second guessers trolling for money, for weaknesses in the paperwork. Bounty Hunters.” Ziegelbauer said the legislation “tells managers, tells businesses, tells investors, that instead of looking to grow and prosper, they need to look over their shoulder, every second.”
The bill permits workers, or the Department of Workforce Development, to seek punitive damages of up to $300,000 in cases of workplace discrimination. “Every day businesses in my area are thinking ‘do I keep my business here in Kenosha County, or do I move south of the border” said State Representative Samantha Kerkman , one of several Assembly Republicans who called the bill a jobs killer. Kerkman also said she resented a characterization made by Democrats. “I really do take offense . . to the other side saying that Republican women don’t care about discrimination,” said Kerkman. “Because we do.”
But Kenosha Democrat, Representative Peter Barca, insisted the bill won’t be a jobs killer. “For those few companies in this state that have a history of discrimination, that’s a problem,” said Barca.
“You can talk about all the jobs and that huge sucking sound that you say that’s happening here in the state of Wisconsin, but it’s not because of the legislation we’re passing to protect the men and women that roll up their sleeves and get the work done every day,” said Assembly Speaker Mike Sheridan .
The bill passed the Assembly today – not a regularly specially scheduled floor session – on a 51-47 vote, after passing the Senate on Tuesday. Governor Jim Doyle is expected to sign the measure.