Equal Pay … IF You Play

Last week, in another deft-defying move, DJ Trump signed one of his nifty executive orders — this time revoking the Fair Pay and Safe Workspaces order. And, in another twist of tyranny/irony, he did it just in time to celebrate this past Tuesday’s Equal Pay day.

The Fair Pay order, signed by Obama in 2014, barred companies with a history of violating wage, labor or workplace safety laws from receiving government contracts in excess of $500,000. It also banned forced arbitration clauses (aka “cover-up clauses”) for sexual discrimination, sexual assualt or harassment claims.

Trump’s new order also lifts the mandate on paycheck transparency, which required employers to detail earnings, pay scales, and salaries. Essentially, the Fair Pay order Trump overturned ensured that companies contracted by the government paid women workers equally to their male counterparts. Alas, no more.

I thought you were here to help, Ivanka? I thought you had our backs? Or is was that just you shilling for shoe and bra sales?

The now defunct Equal Pay and Safe Workplaces order also prohibited companies with federal contracts to compel employees with sexual assault or harassment complaints to enter arbitration without consent from both parties.

“Arbitrations are private proceedings with secret filings and private attorneys, and they often help hide sexual harassment claims,” said Maya Raghu, Director of Workplace Equality at the National Women’s Law Center. “It can silence victims. They may feel afraid of coming forward because they might think they are the only one, or fear retaliation.”

Not that I need my own brush with sexual harrasment — or a vagina — to be pissed about this return to the dark ages, but I happen to have both. I didn’t take my complaint to the highest echelons not because I knew how hand-tying the arbitration process can be, but how embarrassing and potentially career-killing it was to “go there.”

When I was an associate news producer, I worked with a senior editor on a short piece for the broadcast on a concept car auction in Detroit. This editor — famously grumpy, infamously lazy, and in his late 60’s — didn’t like a young female upstart pointing out shots she wanted included in the piece. In fact, he didn’t want her to have any input whatsoever (even though I wrote the piece, did the interviews and directed the shoot). But nevertheless she persisted … If he put in a drab shot, I told him the time code of a much cooler one, later in the tape, which he hadn’t bothered to look through in its entirety before editing.

So, in order to get me out of his edit room and erode my apparent self-confidence, he started to lay into me, ever so subtlely. First he asked me if I had a boyfriend, then why I didn’t have a boyfriend. He made character analysis and suggested that perhaps it was because I was bossy and advised men didn’t like bossy women.

I felt compelled, at first, to play along — out of respect for his seniority and in the interest of the piece and surviving in general. But when I started steering him away from my personal life and back to the work, he got outright nasty. He started calling me a bitch. I told him to stop it or I’d tell. He told me no one wanted to hear me. Finally, when I told him enough was enough, he told me to go fuck myself.

I reported this to our head producer. More, I taped it, so I could prove it was happening and I played it for him. The producer said the editor was in the wrong, that he would talk to him. I was then reminded of said editor’s legendary irrascibility and advised to play nice, as I did have a reputation for being opinionated.

Then, a month later, at our show’s holiday party, the editor asked me, in front of other colleagues, why one of my boobs was larger than the other.

I had a lot of opinions about that one. And I finally put on my big girl panties and made those opinions heard. I told our producer and basically gave him an ultimatum: I will never work with this man again. If I feel threatened by him in any way in the future, me and my tape and my holiday party witness testimony were going to the network’s legal department. He understood and honored this by never matching us up again on a segment.

I was heard. But if you are a contracted female employee working for a government-contracted agency who has been receiving unwanted chest massages from your boss, you are now, essentially, SOL. Your only recourse is arbitration and the company you are opposing not only chooses said arbitration panel but prohibits you from appealing the decision. Stacked against you much?

Enter Fox News — Again, and again … and again.

Gretchen Carlsson tried circumventing the rigged arbitration process by suing former Fox News president Roger “Feel ‘Er Up” Ailes directly, instead of suing the company. She was accused of breaching her contract by Ailes’ attorneys who wanted to keep the story out of the courts and news.

And now we find out that Bill O’ Reilly, the public face and conscience of Fox News, paid to play: $13 million dollars, in fact. A NY Times investigation found that he or or his parent company paid off five women who had accused the host of sexual harrassment, in exchange for them not pursuing legal action or speaking publicly about what he did. (Charges ranging from lewd comments and unwanted advances to phone calls in which it sounded as though O’ Reilly was masturbating. Can you hear me now?)

These are examples from the the private sector, of course, but a 2010 Government Accountability Office investigation showed that companies with massive violations were being awarded millions in federal contracts, contracts paid by tax-abiding citizens (of which are president is not). The Equal Pay order, thus, ended that immunity.

“We have an executive order that essentially forces women to pay to keep companies in business that discriminate against them, with their own tax dollars,” Noreen Farrell, director of the anti-sex discrimination law firm Equal Rights Advocates, told NBC News.

I didn’t lose my job like these women did for not playing along, so I was likely less motivated to go to the mat. But while I didn’t get fired for speaking up; I know I didn’t speak up loudly enough. I didn’t do anything for the next young woman he or others like him preyed upon. I regret that.

Also, I sort of regret that, in a fit of renovation-inspired spring cleaning, I recently threw away that tape. I was under the spell of (skimming) Marie Kondo’s “Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up.” In it, she advises getting rid of stuff that doesn’t make you happy or spark joy. The tape was an ugly reminder of an ugly experience so it qualified for the bin, but I held on to it for a few days longer anyway.

Kondo advises that if you have a hard time getting rid of something, “thank the item for the role it has already played in your life,” and says then you’re free to “let it go.” I wish memories were that easy to let go. And of course, I didn’t kiss it and thank it. But maybe I should have — for reminding me what it feels like to be degraded and ensuring that next time, I won’t go soft on the culprit(s).

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