Pay equality has been the talk of the town recently, but it is no secret that women earn less than men across most, if not all, occupations for doing similar work. But good news! In July, workers in New York who allege wage discrimination by their employers have a new set of tools at their disposal as a result of legislation requiring equal pay regardless of one’s salary history or membership of a protected class.
Governor Cuomo signed the equal pay bills in New York City just ahead of a ticker tape parade celebrating the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team (USWNT), players from which have sued the U.S. Soccer Federation for denying them equal pay and treating them less well compared to the U.S. Men’s Team (USMNT) on account of their gender.
The USWNT made headlines after winning their fourth World Cup Championship on July 7th. The USMNT hasn't had the same success – they didn't even qualify to compete in the last World Cup – but are paid almost three times as much as the women’s team. GELC Director of Programs and Policy, Lauren Betters sat down with BRIC Media to discuss the case and pay equity in sports, stating that “[Equal pay] is one of the most pernicious and perpetuating issues of gender-based discrimination that we see in workplaces today. It is blatant [and it is] intentional.”
New York already prohibits pay disparities based on sex but is one of the many states making “legislative pushes and advoca[ting] towards breaking down those barriers to success and equal opportunity and equal pay for women,” said Lauren.
Previously, New York required employers to give the same compensation for similar or equal work, unless differences are based on seniority, merit, quality of work, or any other bona fide reason other than sex. Now, the law requires equal pay for “substantially similar work,” which is based on the skill and effort required, responsibility involved, and working conditions. The law makes it more difficult for employers to get away with justifying lower pay for some workers by giving them different titles or slightly different duties. The law prohibits paying employees differently based on any of the fifteen characteristics covered by the New York State Human Rights Law, not only sex, and protects both government and private-sector employees.
Employers are also now prohibited from asking prospective or current employees about their wage or salary history. This law brings New York State in line with protections that have existed in New York City since October 2018. Under this new law, employers in New York State may not use a person’s pay history to determine whether to interview, hire, or promote a worker. The purpose of this legislation is to uproot deeply entrenched gender-based discrimination that impacts primarily women, particularly women of color, who historically have been underpaid. Its aim is to end pay disparities that occur as a result of employers basing an employee’s pay on what the employee had earned previously – pay disparities that have long lasting effects as they follow women from job to job. The only time an employer may inquire into an employee’s pay history is if the employee voluntarily and without prompting discloses their compensation history.
Lastly, the new legislation explicitly makes it the policy of all state and local governments to not discriminate in employees’ pay or benefits based on any of the characteristics protected under the State Human Rights Law. It creates a private cause of action for government employees, who can be awarded back pay, front pay, compensatory and punitive damages, and attorney’s fees if the prevail.
The Gender Equality Law Center worked with coalitions of employment lawyers and advocates to support these bills. We will continue fighting to eliminate the many other factors contributing to the gender wage gap, such as the heavy burden on women to take time away from work to fill unpaid caregiving roles, and the prevalence of sexual harassment that disproportionately effects working women and LGBTQ folks. Many of these issues are included in Governor Cuomo’s 2019 Women’s Justice Agenda, on which we are working with other advocates to ensure that they are all enshrined into law before the year is over.