Making salary history, history

Aileen Rizo has been working as a math consultant for the Fresno, California public school system since 2009. Several years after she was hired, she discovered that her male colleagues were being paid more than she was — despite performing the same work — simply because they had been paid more in their previous jobs. Aileen sued the school system for violating the Equal Pay Act, which mandates that men and women be given equal pay for equal work. Last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that such wage discrepancies based on previous salary were not discriminatory, essentially condoning the practice of paying men more than women.

In the face of such a destructive ruling for women and our entire economy, it is more critical than ever that the widespread practice of relying on previous salary history to determine compensation will no longer be allowed in New York City.

Public Advocate James and Mayor de Blasio as he signs the bill into law on May 4, 2017

Today, New York City took a large step towards tackling the pervasive gender wage gap. Mayor Bill de Blasio signed into law a bill that I introduced to prohibit employers from asking any job applicant for their previous salary information. As evidenced by Aileen’s case, when employers use previous salary information to determine compensation, they perpetuate the gender wage gap by relying on salaries that already reflect wage discrimination.

Aileen’s experience is not an anomaly. My office found that women in New York City are cheated out of $5.8 billion a year in lost wages. This harsh reality is even more detrimental to women of color: Asian, Black, and Hispanic women experience a 37 percent, 45 percent, and 54 percent wage gap compared to white men.

Sadly, this is not a one-year or a one-job problem, but a lifetime problem. When women are paid less for equal work, from one job to the next, they don’t simply bring home a smaller paycheck, they are proportionally cheated in their social security benefits and their retirement savings.

Paying women less than men for the same work is discriminatory. Utilizing practices that result in women being paid less than men are also discriminatory. While the Ninth Circuit decision is a huge setback for achieving gender parity and our entire economy, the passage of laws that prohibit questions about salary history are big steps towards finally closing the wage gap. Being underpaid once should not condemn one to a lifetime of inequity and I am proud that New York City is leading the way towards achieving pay parity by banning this detrimental hiring practice for good.