Bill seeking to close gender pay gap passes Assembly

By Briana Vannozzi

“It’s 2017. I don’t understand why we’re even talking about this, but obviously we have to,” Assemblywoman Joann Downey said.

Downey wants to ban one of the age-old questions used during an applicant’s hiring process: what was your previous salary?

“What it’s intending to do is to make sure that we now try to bridge that gap between the inequity, the pay inequity between men and women, and this is a really big step toward doing that,” she said.

Her bill, already passed by the Assembly, will ban employers from inquiring about salary history. It amends the state law against discrimination prohibiting employers from screening an applicant based on past wages during any stage of hiring. She says, to level the playing field.

“One thing we know that’s been consistent in our labor market is that women at all levels, from entry level through their careers, continue to earn less than men. The pay gap is something that’s systemic and across the board,” said Mary Gatta, associate professor of sociology at City University of New York-Guttman.

Gatta says policies like this are one way to make an inroad. She’s worked on research showing women are paid roughly 20 percent lower than men for comparable work.

“So we, if we base someone’s salary on what they were earning previously and if they weren’t being paid fairly previously, there is a way of repeating and embedding discrimination in someone’s career path,” said Gatta.

“So 79 cents on a dollar is what a white woman will make compared to a man. African-American women it’s 60 cents on a dollar. For Latinas it’s 55 cents on a dollar. That’s terrible,” Downey said.

Here’s her example: a woman applying for a new job, previously making say, $40,000 dollars while her male counterpart was making $45,000, is more likely to be offered and accept a lower pay scale because it’s still higher than her previous wage.

“Here this is forcing the employer to do the right thing and offer the salary that’s available whether you’re a man or woman,” Downey said.

Downey’s bill also prevents employers from punishing current employees for disclosing salary or job title information. At least eight other states have passed or are considering similar legislation aimed at closing gender-based pay gaps.

The bill faces strong opposition from the business community who argues salary history is used to gauge the market, among other things. We reached out to several industry organizations but they either weren’t available or declined to comment. The legislation now heads to the Senate.