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Advocates Don't Buy It, But SA Maintains It Has No Pay Disparities 

click to enlarge SA remains confident there's no gender pay disparity among city employees, but some beg to differ. - SHUTTERSTOCK
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  • SA remains confident there's no gender pay disparity among city employees, but some beg to differ.

As far as one local leader sees it, if people are confident the Alamo City has shattered its glass ceiling, they need to think again.

In early April, just weeks before municipal elections, District 7 Councilman Cris Medina, who is up for re-election, created an online petition calling on the city to revisit pay disparities between men and women who work for San Antonio.

"In one of his last acts as Mayor, Julián Castro requested that the city retain a third party to conduct an equal pay study. Unfortunately, it appears that his request was ignored and no action has been taken," Medina told supporters in an email. "That is unacceptable and I plan to change that."

Medina ignored repeated interview requests from the San Antonio Current.

The city's HR department doesn't seem too worried.

The department stands by its 2013 analyses of pay between men and women, calling its "employee compensation philosophy" fair and equitable.

"The City's policy and practices on employee pay allow for a number of factors, such as qualifications, experience, and individual performance to be considered in determining an employee's pay and demonstrate the City's commitment to equal pay for equal work," according to a statement to the Current.

Medina originally pushed the issue nearly two years ago, prompting the internal review in which former HR Director Joe Angelo concluded that "pay disparities did not exist between male and female full-time City employees," according to minutes from the November 20, 2013, Governance Committee meeting.

That assertion conflicts with a federal lawsuit filed last summer by three women who accuse SA of violating the federal Equal Pay Act. Two of the women — Christine Peden and Jeanne Martinez — also allege that the city retaliated against them after they reported discovering that male coworkers in the same positions with the same amount of experience actually received higher pay.

After an investigation, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sided with Peden and Martinez, granting them the right to sue the city.

The women worked at Animal Care Services, which Angelo managed prior to joining the HR department.

As of last Tuesday, Medina's petition had garnered just over 50 signatures with 26 people chiming in with supportive comments.

Peden signed the petition, commenting: "$50k less than a man."

Martinez offered some thoughts of her own.

"Men and women have fought and died to preserve our rights granted by our government," she wrote. "Women in this country deserve better."

While the city maintains there are no gender-based pay disparities between its full-time employees, white males have long dominated local government and private-business sectors.

It's something equal-pay advocates have been trying to change.

"We're operating in an environment where, historically, men have received favored status in our society and there's a culture of valuing their work over women's work," said Joleen Garcia, executive director of the Martinez Street Women's Center.

She welcomes Medina's Equal Pay for SA initiative, but cautions city leaders from getting lost in studies.

"Some things aren't easy to find through studies and this lawsuit is an opportunity to uncover that and there are more stories that we need to uncover," Garcia said. "If we had an independent study that looks at individual stories and encourages women to speak out, I think we'd find out more."

And it's impossible for the city to accurately analyze itself, according Garcia.

Statewide wage-gap information also reveals a picture of inequality.

According to data compiled by Progress Texas, a left-leaning public relations and advocacy organization, Texas women make 76 cents for every dollar a man earns.

The outlook is worse for women of color. African-American women make 57 cents to every dollar a white man makes and Hispanic women make 45 cents to the dollar. Those numbers are garnered using U.S. Census data.

"Our growing population of Latina women and our population of African-American women combined create a majority status in San Antonio," Garcia said of the statewide statistics. "And if we don't see to their economic well-being, then we are impacting an entire majority of San Antonio."

That's because income disparity trickles down.

"Equal pay is a family issue because women are increasingly bread winners in the home," said Lucy Stein, advocacy director at Progress Texas. "So when women make less, families suffer because they are also earning less on the whole."

While San Antonio doesn't plan to revisit Medina's request, unless he is re-elected and successfully convinces his colleagues to support a third-party study, there are strong efforts on the state level to address gender-income equality. The Texas Equal Pay Act mirrors the federal Lilly Ledbetter Act — the first law President Barack Obama signed when he was elected to the nation's top office.

Enacted in 2009, the law resets the 180-day statute of limitations on equal pay lawsuits for each paycheck affected by discrimination.

"Texas is one of eight states that doesn't have a state version of the Lilly Ledbetter Act," said Stein. "It makes it easier to sue."

During the last legislative session, the Texas Equal Pay Act was approved, but former governor Rick Perry vetoed it.

To effectively close the wage gap, Stein said the Lone Star State would need to raise the minimum wage, support pay transparency, invest in paid family and medical leave, and pass the Texas Equal Pay Act.

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