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Cuomo signs pay equity bills

Governor Cuomo signs into law legislation that expands equal pay laws to prohibit unequal pay on the basis of a protected class for all substantially similar work, and forbids employers from asking prospective employees about their salary history

Gov. Andrew Cuomo used the occasion of the ticker tape parade for the U.S. women’s soccer team in Manhattan to sign two bills Wednesday that will make it easier for women in New York to receive pay that is equal to men’s salaries.

The measure mandates equal pay for all employees In New York who do "substantially similar work"   regardless of their gender. It also extends the equal pay provision for workers who are in a protected class, including race, gender identity or disability.

Cuomo, speaking just before the parade for the women’s soccer team began, issued a warning to New York’s employers. 

"If you don't pay women what you pay men then you have no business in the state of New York," Cuomo said as the crowd cheered. "Because we are going to sign a bill that says equal pay for equal work."

Senate sponsor Alessandra Biaggi (D-NYC) said the expansion of the equal pay protections helps to address what she says is a "systematic"  issue of pay discrimination that is "plaguing" marginalized communities. And she says the new law places less of a burden on the worker to prove that there is a pay discrimination issue and more of the responsibility on the employer to remedy the situation.

"It’s shifting the burden of proof from the employee to the employer," Biaggi said. "And also making sure that the burden is not on the person who is coming forward."

The women’s soccer team, which has won the World Cup four times since 1991, has raised the issue of pay inequality, after it was revealed that they are paid just 38% of what the U.S. men’s national soccer team is paid, even though the men have never won a World Cup championship. The women have sued the U.S. Soccer Federation, saying, that in addition, they bring in more revenue for the sport than the men do.

Cuomo condemned FIFA, the International Federation of Football that governs soccer matches worldwide, saying they did the women a "disservice and an injustice" by paying them less.

"These 23 champions are banging on the glass ceiling that is still in existence in the United States of America," said Cuomo. "And they are going to keep banging until they break it."

Cuomo also signed into law a second measure that says an employer can’t ask about a prospective workers pay history at prior jobs, because, he says, that could perpetuate the initial injustice of lower pay. 

Sen. Biaggi said even with these new protections she understands why some women, or members of protected class might still be reluctant to ask their bosses for the same amount that men with their same job positions are paid .

"This is a first step toward closing the wage gap in New York State," Biaggi said. "Culture sometimes takes a while to catch up, and often times when you pass a law, the law can change the culture." 

Biaggi said it’s still a good idea to consult an attorney to make sure the process is followed correctly to protect the employee, and if that’s unaffordable, to try to seek out a lawyer who would do the work pro bono.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.