Equal pay for equal work. What could possibly be controversial about this? The AB 178 hearing turned out to be quite feisty in the Nevada Legislature.
Why? What’s at stake with this workplace discrimination bill?
“Everyone deserves equality in the workplace and a fair shot at the American Dream.” – Assembly Member Sandra Jauregui (D-Henderson)
This is how Assembly Member Jauregui introduced AB 178 at the Assembly Government Affairs Committee. Jauregui described how her passion on this matter drove her to pursue this bill. She also explained how the scope of AB 178 was ultimately expanded to cover sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, race, national origin, age, and disability in addition to gender. Federal law currently prohibits racial discrimination, but gender protections are more limited and protections for LGBTQ workers are virtually nonexistent in federal law.
If passed, AB 178 will strengthen Nevada’s workplace equality law and add teeth to protections that go beyond current federal standards.
Kara Jenkins from the Nevada Equal Rights Commission (NERC) testified as neutral from Las Vegas to explain how AB 178 can be enforced. She explained the current role of NERC to ensure equitable outcomes for Nevada’s employers and employees. Large employers can afford the $20,000 or more in legal fees and two to three years in court hearings a federal trial may require, but most workers and small businesses can’t afford those financial and time commitments. NERC aims to enforce the law and settle discrimination disputes to prevent costlier state or federal trials.
A few of Jauregui’s Assembly colleagues were pleased to hear this bill.
“We want to put this in statute to act as a deterrent, deter those bad actors.” – Assembly Member William McCurdy, II (D-Las Vegas)
“I want to be very clear: Businesses that don’t discriminate have nothing to fear.” – Assembly Member Amber Joiner (D-Reno)
Seems pretty straightforward, right?
Opponents begged to differ. They claimed the $5,000 fines, threats of additional legal action, and record keeping requirements risk putting numerous small businesses out of business. Even though there’s language in AB 178 defining businesses as having 15 or more employees, the Retail Association of Nevada and Chambers of Commerce still used this as a reason to reject the bill.
One surprise at the end of the hearing was Yolanda Gibbons from the Clark County District Attorney’s Office stating Clark County’s opposition to AB 178. She claimed Assembly Member Jauregui would not meet with a Clark County Lobbyist. Jauregui later countered that she’s met with numerous stakeholders, including some who testified against her bill, since AB 178’s introduction on February 13.
AB 178 is part of Nevada Women’s Week (#nvwomensweek) in the Nevada Legislature. #NVLeg leaders are shining a spotlight on the state of women’s equality in the Silver State. They’re also moving several bills, including SJR 2 to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment and multiple bills to expand reproductive health care access.