The House Appropriations Committee approved a budget amendment that would defund an Obama-era initiative to reduce wage disparities by requiring some private employers to submit employee pay data by gender, race and job category.
The measure, part of the proposed House budget, prohibits the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the agency assigned to enforce workplace anti-discrimination laws, from using any funds to collect pay data from employers.
The commission announced under the Obama administration that, starting in March 2018, firms with 100 or more employees would be required to file pay data about their workers in addition to demographic information the firms already submit. The initiative was introduced to improve enforcement of federal laws prohibiting pay discrimination.
But business groups led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce asked the government to rescind the initiative, saying collecting this additional data would be an undue burden on employers. It also expressed concerns about whether the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission would keep the sensitive data confidential.
The commission’s job is to enforce anti-discrimination laws, not collect piles of data that academic researchers can use, said Camille Olson, lawyer and chairwoman of the Chamber of Commerce’s equal employment opportunity policy subcommittee.
“Let’s just collect more data, but at what cost and under what authority?” Olson said. “What is a worthy use of EEOC’s time and taxpayer dollars? Tackling existing complaints or collecting data that researchers could use?”
Women’s rights advocates and researchers studying workplace discrimination say collecting this data is crucial to improving wage gaps.
“Clearly we know that there are stubbornly large gender and racial earnings gaps in the U.S.,” Donald Tomaskovic-Devey, a sociologist who studies workplace discrimination at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, wrote in a letter to the Office of Management and Budget supporting the initiative.
“We also know that there is discrimination in hiring, firing, and compensation practices,” he wrote. “But to challenge discrimination we need to know where it is occurring and this cannot be done without pay and employment data linked to workplaces.”
The data would help the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission benchmark pay patterns within industries, occupations and localities and take a closer look at firms that fall outside those patterns, said Emily Martin, general counsel and vice president of workplace justice at the National Women’s Law Center.
Tomaskovic-Devey said in an email to Reveal that employers’ claims of undue burden seem dubious, as the commission has been collecting pay data from state and local governments since 1974.
Employers also argue that the pay data won’t help the commission identify specific firms with pay disparities. The initiative would require companies to submit aggregated pay data by broad job categories that combine employees with different backgrounds and levels of experience. Companies say they have might have legitimate reasons for paying these employees differently, and the commission will not be able to ferret out truly discriminatory practices using this data.
“This data is not an audit tool for individual companies. That needs much more data. But what the EEOC is planning to do is to compare similar companies to each other – to develop benchmarks,” said Ariane Hegewisch, program director at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. “And having those benchmarks will help the EEOC to better target their enforcement efforts.”