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Committee kills bill meant to close gender wage gap

RICHMOND, Va. – A bill intending to remedy wage discrimination by prohibiting employers from asking interviewees for their salary history was killed Tuesday by the House Commerce and Labor Committee.

“There is convincing evidence that sex discrimination in the workplace continues to be a problem,” said Leslie Tourigny, vice president of public policy for the Virginia branch of the American Association of University Women. “That’s not a myth – that’s math.”

HB 2190 was introduced by Democratic Del. Jennifer Boysko of Herndon. The bill proposed to make it illegal for employers to require applicants to disclose past salaries. It sought to make obtaining an employee’s salary history from previous employers illegal as well.

Each violation would have been punishable by a civil penalty of up to $100 per violation.

Boysko said employers should base the salary of prospective employees on their ability and knowledge rather than what they’ve made in the past. This would be a valuable step in closing the pay gaps that exist between demographics, said the delegate, who represents the 86th House District, which includes parts of Loudoun and Fairfax counties.

“Women of color, older women and moms experience an even larger pay gap,” Tourigny said. “It doesn’t just impact women – it impacts families, it impacts business, and impacts the economy.”

According to the AAUW, women in Virginia made 78 percent of what men made in 2015. A recent study by the AAUW found that one year after graduation, women who were working full time made 7 percent less than their male counterparts.

In April 2016, the Joint Economic Council found that at the current rate, the gender pay gap will not close until 2059.

According to Tourigny, using prior salary to calculate future pay only compounds the problem, hurting women and people of color.

“If we rely on salary history to set future salary, that assumes prior salaries were fairly established in the first place,” Tourigny said. “It just continues bias and discrimination.”

Opponents of the bill said it would backfire and hurt employees.

“We think employers ought to have flexibility to ask these questions. Particularly for small business owners, it helps to understand the market for the position they’re trying to fill,” said Nicole Riley, Virginia director for the National Federation of Independent Business.

According to Riley, this would lead to employers lowballing the salaries of new employees.

“To make it a one-size-fits-all, I think you carry with it unintended consequences,” said Del. Kathy Byron, R-Forest, the vice chair of the House Commerce and Labor Committee. “What can happen is, by demanding things out of business you can put us at a disadvantage for getting hired.”

The committee tabled the bill on a voice vote.

Legislation similar to Boysko’s is being considered in other states and at the federal level.

Last year, Massachusetts adopted such a law. It will take effect in 2018.

In September, H.R. 6030, called the “Pay Equity for All Act of 2016,” was introduced in Congress by U.S. Rep. Eleanor Norton Holmes, who represents Washington, D.C. It would make it illegal at the federal level for employers to ask for salary histories.

By Jesse Adcock with Capital News Service

Capital News Service is a flagship program of VCU’s Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students participating in the program provide state government coverage for Virginia’s community newspapers and other media outlets, under the supervision of Associate Professor Jeff South.