AUSTIN — Democrat Wendy Davis blasted her Republican rival in the Texas governor's race on Monday for saying he would veto a law that would make it easier for victims to sue over pay discrimination.
In front of about 160 supporters, Davis called on Attorney General Greg Abbott to explain why he opposes the Texas version of the Lilly Ledbetter Act. She also asked why an analysis of salaries in the attorney general's office shows that men on average, earn more than women doing the same jobs.
Some of Davis' supporters later demonstrated for equal pay in front of Abbott's office.
In Dallas on Monday evening, about 100 people marched from Klyde Warren Park to the Dallas Arts District talking equal pay, pro-choice, and women's rights.
"Attacking a woman's right to equal pay undermines the value of fairness," said Sameena Karmally, a Democratic candidate for Texas House District 89.
Through a campaign spokesman, Abbott said last week that a state version of the Ledbetter act is unnecessary because pay discrimination is already illegal. His official spokeswoman in the attorney general's office also said last week that any pay disparity is because women who serve as assistant attorneys general had less experience and have held their law licenses for a shorter period of time.
Abbott has not issued a statement or spoken publicly about his opposition to the Ledbetter act, which extends the period of time victims have to file a lawsuit. Under current state law, victims of discrimination can only sue within 180 days of when their pay is set, even if they don't learn of the discrimination until years later.
Congress passed a federal version of the Ledbetter act in 2009, but critics say there are not enough federal judges to handle all the lawsuits. Davis has said a Texas version of the legislation would allow women more flexibility to sue in state courts and avoid lengthier and costlier federal discrimination cases.
Statistics show that women across the state earn on average 79 cents for every dollar a man makes. Davis passed a bill through the Republican-controlled Legislature last year that would allow women more time to sue for intentional discrimination, but Republican Gov. Rick Perry vetoed the measure.
Davis has seized on the issue to inject new energy into her campaign against Abbott.
"He seemed to say that he supported the concept of equal pay. But I've never heard of a concept that could pay the rent, put food on the table, or buy a tank of gas for the truck," she said Monday.
Meanwhile, Abbott accused Davis of questionable ethical behavior because of her legal work on multiple public bond offerings. Her law firm represents several public entities, including Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport and the Tarrant County Water District.
"She continues to refuse to disclose to Texans how much she made from taxpayer-funded contracts while profiting off state debt," Abbott spokesman Matt Hirsch said.
Davis said that she was representing her clients' wishes, that she has released her personal finances and that she is wrapping up her legal work as quickly as possible to concentrate on her gubernatorial campaign.