MADISON, Wis. – The top lobbyist for Wisconsin's chamber of commerce defended the group Tuesday from accusations by Democratic lawmakers and others that a graphic on its website was offensive and indicated the business organization was against pay equity for women.
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The lawmakers, along with representatives of the liberal group One Wisconsin Now and the women's rights organization 9to5, called on the state chamber to remove the image from its website.
The graphic is on the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce website as part of a fundraising plea. It says, "Anti-business voices are loud and clear" and "Make sure the business voice is heard in 2014!" Next to those words are the images of six people carrying signs, one of which says, "Pay Equity NOW!" Other signs say, "Walker wrong on tax cuts" and "No mining ever!"
The graphic is "totally offensive" and implies that WMC wants to keep women in the kitchen, said Democratic state Rep. Chris Taylor of Madison. She called on the organization to either remove the image or present a corporate member who believes it's OK to pay women less than men.
Scott Manley, a lobbyist for WMC, attended Taylor's news conference and said afterward that Wisconsin employers believe in equal pay for equal work. Manley defended the graphic and said he didn't see a reason to change it, calling criticism of it as indicating WMC opposes paying women the same as men as "shameful," ''unfounded" and "absurd."
Manley said the graphic was in reference to a law opposed by WMC — passed in 2009 by Democrats and repealed in 2012 by Republicans — that allowed for pay equity and other discrimination cases seeking punitive damages to be brought in state court.
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Supporters of the law said that was a better option than suing in federal court and the law helped deter businesses from unequally paying anyone based on their gender, age, race, sexual orientation or military status.
The business lobby and other opponents argued the law would open the door to frivolous and expensive lawsuits that would hurt employers and benefit trial attorneys.
No lawsuits were brought under the law while it was in effect. A different law, still in effect, requires paying women the same as men. However, no lawsuits can be brought in state court seeking punitive damages.
Repeal of the law is also being used by Democrats in at least two campaigns this fall. The bill to repeal the law was sponsored by state Sen. Glenn Grothman, a Republican running for Congress in eastern Wisconsin. And Gov. Scott Walker, who is running for re-election against Democrat Mary Burke, signed it into law.
Follow Scott Bauer on Twitter at https://twitter.com/sbauerAP