Employee associations urge US justice department to tackle pay disparities

By on 04/09/2020 | Updated on 24/09/2020
“Our members have shared many experiences of being paid lower salaries than their similarly situated male and/or white counterparts,” six employee associations say. (Photo by Gregory Varnum via Wikimedia Commons).

US justice department employee associations are urging the department’s leaders to stop asking job applicants for their salary histories, in a bid to stamp out pay disparities among workers.

Six employee associations – including the DOJ Gender Equality Network, Department of Justice Association of Black Attorneys, and DOJ Pride – signed a letter last month to the leaders of each division within the department asking them to remove the practice from the hiring process. They argue that it leads to women, ethnic minorities and LGBTQ+ employees earning less than their male, white, heterosexual counterparts.

The practice of asking for candidates’ salary histories, they say, “stands in contrast to 19 states/territories, over 20 more municipalities, and a large number of major American companies that have banned consideration of past salary information due to its discriminatory impact on women and people of color. We urge the department to follow suit”.

They say they have heard from many employees who started jobs between 2012 and 2018, when salary history was often a required field in USAJobs – the government’s site for listing civil service job opportunities at federal agencies – that providing such information leads to inequitable pay disparities.

“Our members have shared many experiences of being paid lower salaries than their similarly situated male and/or white counterparts upon entry and throughout their time at the department,” they write.

The associations cite the example of a female employee who discovered she was earning less than her male counterpart in the same section because, despite having two more years of relevant legal experience, she had taken a pay cut to work for a public interest organisation prior to joining the department. Had she not discovered the pay difference and successfully challenged the decision through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, “the disparity would have continued throughout her employment in the department and could have had a compounding economic effect throughout her career,” the letter reads.

‘Unfair, demoralising, and possibly unlawful’

As a result, the staff associations say, “we believe the department’s current practices are not only bad policy, but that they may violate federal antidiscrimination law”. To avoid these “unfair, demoralizing, and possibly unlawful situations”, the associations request that department leaders remove the salary history field, even in its optional form, from all positions posted on USAJobs; state in all job ads that applications should not include current or previous salary information; and not permit any department official to view or take into account an individual’s current or previous salary when setting salaries. It also urges the department to be more transparent about how it makes salary determinations, and to include such information in publicly available materials.

Taking these measures will help the department “to become a more equitable workplace, enhance employee morale, increase transparency, and improve recruitment and retention of highly qualified employees,” the associations say.

The justice department has not yet responded to the letter.

About Mia Hunt

Mia is a journalist and editor with a background in covering commercial property, having been market reports and supplements editor at trade title Property Week and deputy editor of Shopping Centre magazine, now known as Retail Destination. She has also undertaken freelance work for several publications including the preview magazine of international trade show, MAPIC, and TES Global (formerly the Times Educational Supplement) and has produced a white paper on energy efficiency in business for E.ON. Between 2014 and 2016, she was a member of the Revo Customer Experience Committee and an ACE Awards judge. Mia graduated from Kingston University with a first-class degree in journalism and was part of the team that produced The River newspaper, which won Publication of the Year at the Guardian Student Media Awards in 2010.

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