BATON ROUGE, La. – Rep. Barbara Norton has reintroduced the “Equal Pay for Women Act,” which would give the state power to correct and eliminate discriminatory wage practices based on sex for comparable work.

The bill would grant employees, who believe they are underpaid because of their gender, the opportunity to petition for a wage increase. After the employee files a written complaint, the employer has 90 days to rectify the situation. After 90 days, the employee could initiate a civil lawsuit against the employer to recoup back wages and damages.

“Regardless of the job, if a woman has the same qualifications as a man, I see no reason why they should not make the same amount of money,” says Norton.

The proposal comes on the heels of U.S. Census Bureau data that shows full-time female employees make 77 cents for every dollar earned by men, while Louisiana’s women earned less than 70 cents when compared to their male counterparts.

The Equal Pay Act of 1963 already protects employees from gender based discrimination; however, Norton feels that the act has not done enough to protect women’s earnings.

According to Norton, the bill, “will give those companies who are holding back [raising female wages] the boost they need to do the right thing, and comply with the Federal statute requiring businesses to pay women equal to men.”

The inference derived from the U.S. Census Data is that employers intentionally discriminate and pay women less than men.

However, wage disparities alone do not prove discrimination, and a 2009 Department of Labor study concluded that differences in the compensation of men and women depended on “a multitude of factors… The raw wage gap should not be used as the basis to justify [government intervention].”

A 2010 study from the market research firm Reach Advisors found that in 147 of the 150 largest U.S. cities, the median full-time salaries of unmarried, childless women under 30 was 8 percent higher than those of men in their peer group. For Atlanta and Memphis, women in their peer category earned 20 percent more than men.

James Chung, who authored the study, attributes the earnings reversal to educational systems tailored to the needs of women. Consequently, 33 percent more women than men now graduate from college. Chung also notes a growing knowledge-based economy which creates female specific jobs, and a shrinking manufacturing sector that would otherwise create jobs for males.

The latest recession has also disproportionately hit male-dominated fields such as construction, manufacturing, and transportation.

A 2009 study from Northeastern University notes that, “male workers, especially those under 35 and those without a two year or four year college degree, have fared far worse than female workers on a variety of fronts, including increases in unemployment, losses in civilian employment, and rising rates of labor underutilization.”

Walter Block, professor of economics at Loyola University, disputes the existence of a male-female wage gap. He claims that if it did exist, employers would profit from hiring women and firing men, because women could be paid a smaller salary for equal work. Competing employers would then bid up women’s salaries and close the difference. “

For example, if an average man’s wage was $10 per hour, and the average woman’s wage was $7 per hour, and they have equal productivity, the employer would want to employ a woman, since he will have an extra $3 profit per hour.”

Mimi Schippers, Associate Professor of Sociology at Tulane University, disputes Dr. Block’s claim, and states there is a distinction between wage discrimination and a employer’s decision to hire one gender over the other. “In a ‘free market’, employers who pay female workers less than male workers for comparable work are engaging in wage discrimination, regardless of their rationale.”

Romina Boccia, policy analyst for the Independent Women’s Forum, claims that personal preferences, rather than discrimination, account for the majority of the wage gap.

Boccia notes that women opt to spend less time at work, for example, as illustrated by data from the Department of Labor that shows women working full-time average 7.5 hours per day, while men working full-time average 8.3 hours; women tend to take more time out of the workforce; women are more risk averse; and women tend to cluster in flexible, lower paying jobs.

Boccia also expresses concerns about the legal ramifications of the act. “If the act encourages frivolous class action lawsuits in hopes of winning a few large cases, it could seriously harm Louisiana businesses by imposing heavy legal fines – thus harming women’s employment prospects, since employers would perceive women to pose a heavy legal liability.”

Boccia also questions the benefit of an imposed reduction in the wage gap in Louisiana, since it would most likely be because employers are fearful of litigation. They may choose to pay women more to avoid lawsuits, “but that doesn’t mean [the act] is addressing any of the underlying factors causing women to be paid less in the first place.”

Professor Schippers disagrees, and finds it interesting that men are so concerned with falling behind women in the labor market, “This reveals a fundamental assumption that men should earn more than women, and that any reversal is framed as ‘something is going wrong.'”