Proposals Aim To Combat Discrimination Based On Salary History | KUOW News and Information

Proposals Aim To Combat Discrimination Based On Salary History

May 30, 2017
Originally published on May 30, 2017 10:17 pm

This year, 25 states and the District of Columbia are considering measures that would bar employers from asking job candidates about their prior salary. Last year, two states — California and Massachusetts — adopted similar policies, aimed at trying to narrow the pay gap for women and minorities.

Such measures are designed to help people like Aileen Rizo. She was four years into her job as a math teaching consultant for Fresno County, Calif., when she found out, in 2012, that a new male hire with less education and experience was offered a salary roughly 20 percent more than she was making.

Rizo was stunned.

"I kind of knew that I had broken stereotypes, as a mathematician, and as the only full-time woman in that department," as well as being a Latina minority, she says. "But then to find out that you're getting paid less than all of your male counterparts — that they all started much higher salary steps then you did — is just ... devastating."

Rizo complained to human resources, assuming the problem would be ironed out. Instead, she was told her salary was set based on previous pay — and that her salary would not be adjusted. She says she was shocked and felt locked in.

"I couldn't educate myself out of being paid less, I couldn't get more experience or be in the job market longer to break that cycle," she says. "Because low wages will follow you wherever you go as long as someone keeps asking you how much you were paid."

Rizo filed suit, arguing her employer violated the Equal Pay Act, the 1963 law aimed at abolishing wage discrimination based on gender.

"I have three young daughters, and I don't want them ever to feel that way," she says, her voice cracking.

Rizo prevailed in lower court, but last month the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned that ruling. Now, she's considering an appeal to the Supreme Court.

"After the 9th Circuit decision, I felt like now it's black and white ... you can pay a woman less," she says. "I don't want that to be the end of the story."

In the years since Rizo filed her case, states and cities have been passing laws banning employers from asking about previous salaries. Last year, Massachusetts and California became the first states to do so. New York City adopted a similar law, and Philadelphia's ordinance is temporarily stayed pending litigation.

Most of the measures have yet to take effect, so there is no data to show what effect they've had.

"The problem with proving the efficacy of public policy that hasn't been tried before is that it hasn't been tried before so no one can research it," says Kevin Miller, a researcher at the American Association of University Women. In a 2013 report looking at Department of Education data, his group found that women make 7 percent less than men a year out of college, even after controlling for variables such education, college major, occupation, industry and hours worked.

Miller says that gap tends to compound with age, and is bigger for minorities — although the disparity is less where salaries are set by union or government rules.

"When you have more room to maneuver and more room to negotiate, I think that's where you see bias come in," he says.

Rizo's case prompted congressional delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., to introduce federal legislation banning employers from asking about prior salary information. She points to data that show even highly professional women such as doctors and lawyers start out earning less.

"That means, for the rest of their career, they will carry a lower wage," she says.

Norton says her bill has support from only Democrats, but she's hoping to build broader support over time.

"We don't sit here and say, 'Look at the current Congress, why put this bill in?" she says. "We do the opposite. I ask you to look at what you think the next Congress is going to look like."

But employer groups say a patchwork of different laws add to administrative burdens.

Nancy Hammer, government affairs counsel for the Society for Human Resource Management, says many employers ask about prior salary, but not in order to discriminate.

"They don't want to waste the time of a candidate who's seeking a higher salary than they can offer," she says.

Hammer argues that instead of a ban on salary history, policy should focus on encouraging businesses to identify and fix any internal pay gaps — in exchange for legal protection from pay discrimination suits.

"Right now, employers are hesitant to do that because it raises alarm bells that they were doing something wrong all along," she says.

Employers want to keep their workers happy and motivated, Hammer argues, so it's in their interest not to create disparities in pay. And she says many are willing to take a hard look at whether it's necessary to look at a person's past salary.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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We're going to hear next about a policy measure that a bunch of states are looking at to narrow the pay gap for women and minorities. It bars employers from asking job candidates about their salary history. California and Massachusetts recently adopted laws that do this, and this year, 25 states and the District of Columbia are considering such measures. NPR's Yuki Noguchi has more.

YUKI NOGUCHI, BYLINE: Aileen Rizo was four years into her job as a math teaching consultant for Fresno County, Calif., when she found out a new male hire with less education and experience was offered a salary roughly 20 percent more than she was making.

AILEEN RIZO: I kind of knew that I had broken stereotypes as a mathematician and as the only full-time woman in that department. But then to find out that you're getting paid less than all of your male counterparts, that they all started much higher salary steps than you did is just devastating.

NOGUCHI: Rizo complained to human resources and was told her salary was set based on previous pay and that nothing would change. She was shocked, she says, and felt locked in.

RIZO: I couldn't educate myself out of being paid less. I couldn't get more experience or be in the job market longer to break that cycle 'cause low wages will follow you wherever you go as long as someone keeps asking you how much you were paid.

NOGUCHI: Rizo sued after that 2012 incident, arguing her employer violated the Equal Pay Act.

RIZO: I have three young daughters, and I don't want them ever to feel that way.

NOGUCHI: Rizo prevailed in lower court, but last month, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned that ruling. Now she's considering an appeal to the Supreme Court.

RIZO: After the 9th Circuit decision, I felt like now it's black and white. You can pay a woman less. So I don't want that to be the end of the story.

NOGUCHI: In the years since Rizo filed her case, Massachusetts, California and New York City have passed or amended laws to ban employers from asking about previous salaries. Philadelphia's law is stayed pending litigation. Most of the measures have yet to take effect, so there's no data to show what impact they've had.

Kevin Miller, a researcher at the American Association of University Women, says what is known is that college-educated women start out making 7 percent less than men a year after graduating. This is true comparing women and men who have similar levels of education who might have majored in the same subjects and chose the same jobs or industries to work in. Miller says that gap tends to increase with age and is worse for minorities. Employers who set their own pay without union or government salary bands also tend to see greater pay disparities.

KEVIN MILLER: When you have more room to maneuver and more room to negotiate, I think that's where you see bias come in.

NOGUCHI: Rizo's case prompted Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, representing Washington, D.C., to introduce federal legislation banning employers from asking about prior salary information. Holmes says her bill has support from only Democrats, but she's hoping to build broader support over time.

ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON: We don't sit here and say, look at the current Congress. Why put this bill in? We do the opposite. I ask you to look at what you think the next Congress is going to look like.

NOGUCHI: Employer groups generally oppose these new measures, saying they add to businesses' administrative burdens. Nancy Hammer is government affairs counsel for the Society for Human Resource Management. She says many employers ask about prior salary but not in order to discriminate.

NANCY HAMMER: They don't want to waste the time of a candidate who's seeking a higher salary than they can offer.

NOGUCHI: Instead of telling employers they can't ask about salary history, she says policies should focus on encouraging businesses to audit, identify and fix any internal pay gaps.

HAMMER: Right now employers are hesitant to do that because it raises alarm bells that they were doing something wrong all along.

NOGUCHI: Most employers want to keep their workers happy and motivated, she says, so it's in their interest not to create big disparities in pay. Yuki Noguchi, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.