Massachusetts Bill S.2119: An Act to Establish Equal Pay
on October 25, 2016.
In Massachusetts, Bill S.2119, an Act to establish pay equity, is being hailed by equal pay advocates as one of the strongest state equal-pay bills to date. Admittedly, Bill S.2119 is a step in the in the right direction, but it is far from the glass-ceiling-shattering legislation that some have proclaimed it to be. With the exception of Section 2(c) of the Bill, the provisions are largely toothless, allegedly banning gender discrimination for wage payments, yet providing employers with the ability to sidestep the equal pay decree through built-in exceptions, such as "quantity or quality of production" of a particular employee.
Supposedly, wage inequality exists in Massachusetts. According to the Massachusetts Equal Pay Coalition, women in Massachusetts earn approximately 82% of what men earn in Massachusetts, with 57% of low wage jobs being held by women. Additionally, minority women fare even worse. African American women earn 66 cents and Latina women earn 54 cents, for every dollar earned by men. Pay inequality, however, is the product of complex factors that, in the aggregate, result in apparently disparate wages today. Accordingly, a superficial bill such as Bill S.2119 will not bring about the end of unequal pay.
Massachusetts Bill S.2119 was enacted with the intent to promote equal pay by prohibiting pay discrimination for comparable work, prohibiting employers from asking potential employees about their salary history during interviews, and allowing for co-workers to discuss their salaries. Out of these objectives, the only provision of the Bill that has potential to decrease wage inequality is Section 2(c), which prevents employers from asking interviewees about their salary history. Since, on average, women make less than men, Section 2(c) can restrict employers from inadvertently discriminating against women by adjusting their salary offer in response to learning of a woman's past salary. Since the prior salary may have been the result of prior gender discrimination, this prohibition may stem a cycle of lower wages. The state and federal legislatures, however, have yet to get behind laws that will target unequal pay at its source of origin, and Bill S.2119 is a continuation of that trend.