Proposals Aim To Combat Discrimination Based On Salary History Several states and cities are considering measures that would bar employers from asking job candidates about their prior salary. The bills are seen helping narrow the pay gap for women and minorities.
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Proposals Aim To Combat Discrimination Based On Salary History

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Proposals Aim To Combat Discrimination Based On Salary History

Proposals Aim To Combat Discrimination Based On Salary History

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

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.

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