Joining a nationwide trend, a bipartisan group of South Carolina legislators recently introduced bills in both houses of the General Assembly aimed at allowing applicants and employees to sue employers for unequal pay.

Proposed and supported by the South Carolina Women’s Rights and Empowerment Network, the Act to Establish Pay Equity (S.372 and H.3615) would require equal pay across all protected classes. It would prohibit employers from paying lower wages “than the rate paid to employees of another race; religion; color; sex, including gender identity and sexual orientation; age; national origin; or disability status for comparable work.”

The proposed legislation would also prohibit employers from conducting wage history inquiries or relying on an applicant’s wage history in employment considerations. Additionally, it would impose new wage transparency requirements and mandate that employers disclose to an applicant a position’s wage range at the earliest of three instances: 1) upon the applicant’s request; 2) when inquiring about the applicant’s wage expectations; or 3) when extending an offer of compensation. The act would also make it unlawful for employers to require that employees refrain from disclosing or discussing their wages with other employees.

The proposal further creates a private cause of action for applicants and employees against employers who violate the act. Damages would include unpaid wages plus interest; liquidated damages; compensatory damages; and punitive damages where the employee establishes that the employer “acted with malice or reckless indifference.” The legislation would impose a civil penalty on employers of between $1,000 and $5,000 for each violation.

Legislators have introduced similar pay equity bills in recent years, but those measures stalled in committee.

Senate Bill 372 is pending before the Labor, Commerce, and Industry Committee, and House Bill 3615 has been referred to the Judiciary Committee. We will report on whether either bill makes it out of committee.