A pay discrimination complaint by top U.S. women’s soccer players is helping bring more attention to the gender pay gap that persists across so many industries. There’s long been frustration about unequal pay in basketball, tennis and golf, among others, and that’s just sports.
President Barack Obama has made his support for narrowing the pay gap prominent since he signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which made it easier to sue over discrimination, as his first bill after taking office in 2009. Then in January, he reappeared alongside Ledbetter to announce another initiative: a new rule requiring employers to report their wage statistics to the government.
But The Wall Street Journal found that under Obama, the agency that oversees federal contractors “has racked up few noteworthy victories in its fight against pay discrimination, even after receiving millions of dollars in additional funding to step up its efforts.”
The Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, it found, had settled pay discrimination cases with eight contractors in fiscal year 2015, the lowest for the Obama administration. The overall number of audits, or evaluations, the agency conducted has gone down, too. Critics, The Journal reported, say the agency is wasting resources.
Agency Director Patricia Shiu told The Journal’s Lauren Weber that the low numbers result from her focus on bigger, more difficult “systemic” cases of discrimination that affect more workers. The agency is pursuing “dozens of very big systemic discrimination cases throughout all kinds of industries,” she said. “You’ll see a real uptick in 2016, 2017, 2018.”
A Reveal analysis of the agency’s data, however, shows systemic cases also have been in decline under Shiu’s tenure. There were more than 50 systemic audits closed in both fiscal years 2011 and 2012, but that went down to 25 in fiscal year 2015, the data shows.
Agency spokesman Michael Trupo told Reveal those numbers are “almost certainly an undercount.” The decline, he said, reflects a change in the agency’s definition of “systemic.” It used to mean any case involving 10 or more workers, but in 2013, it was changed to include a measurable pattern or identified practice of discrimination affecting multiple workers.
“The agency is continuously training staff to increase their sophistication in determining when a case is, in fact, systemic,” he said.
In the meantime, business groups have been pushing back against the new initiative to report pay information, arguing that it is too much of a burden and will lead to faulty data.