Rick Perry Urged By Macy's to Oppose Equal Pay For Texas Women

Rick Perry giving a speech

Earlier this fall, Gov. Rick Perry (Texas) vetoed legislation that would have allowed women in Texas to take legal action for not receiving equal pay. Why? Well, partly because a persuasive letter from Macy's corporate management told him he should.

The bill, HB 950, would have built on the federal Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which strengthened women's ability to challenge pay discrimination. The bill intended to provide uniformity between state and federal discrimination laws, and allow Texas women to utilize the state court system as opposed to federal courts in order to avoid the extra expense of traveling to federal courts. Many Lilly Ledbetter protections also don't necessarily apply to state cases without action by the state's legislature.

The bill proved to be overwhelmingly popular and passed in both Texas's House and Senate, but when it got to Perry's desk, he vetoed it almost immediately.

Perry is infamous for pandering to the business community, so it's no surprise that when Richard Cohen, Macy's group vice president of legislative affairs, wrote Perry a letter saying that the requirements under the Ledbetter Act were "unnecessary and harmful to Texas employers," Perry picked up his pen and vetoed the bill. 

A Macy's spokeswoman told Politifact that Macy's was behind the letter, sent in May, but that the company "absolutely supports equal pay for equal work among men and women" — it's just that they believe the existing laws already "provide strong remedies" for discrimination. In Perry's veto statement in June, he hummed a similar tune:

"House Bill 950 duplicates federal law, which already allows employees who feel they have been discriminated against through compensation to file a claim with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission."

But this reason for rejecting the bill is only logical if federal law is actually being duplicated. It's not. 

HB 950 would have made changes to the Texas labor code, while the Ledbetter Act amended the United States Civil Rights Act, over which the state of Texas has no jurisdiction. Further, multiple courts have ruled that in order for the provisions of the Ledbetter Act to apply to state cases, the states must enact similar legislation — this has even been the case where discrimination has been brought to suit in Texas courts.

In Tarrant Regional Water District v. Villanueva, a woman who sued for unequal pay lost because the court ruled that the provisions from the federal Ledbetter Act that extended the charge filing deadlines for some pay discrimination claims did not automatically apply to pay discrimination claims that arose under state law.

Given the veto on these false grounds, Texas will not be joining the 42 other states that have passed similar legislation since the Ledbetter Act went into effect. It will continue to be inconvenient for women to challenge discrimination unless they live close to a federal court and know how to navigate its more complicated legal atmosphere. 

According to Macy's, women account for 78% of their employees and 73% of their management-level executives. Given their female-dominated workforce and their surface-level commitment to diversity (see this smashing video about their dedication to including all kinds of people) it's unclear why Texas's legislation would have been "harmful" to their business.

Only California has more Macy's stores than Texas, where Macy's has opened up more than 50 locations and employs almost 10,000 people. But all of those 50 locations may be seeing less action on Black Friday, as groups in Texas have begun organizing to boycott the store over the letter. So far, almost 6,000 people have signed a petition drafted by Progress Texas, and Democratic lawmakers are taking to the local news to urge their constituents to support the cause and buy their half-price microwaves elsewhere.