Cuomo signed pay equity legislation – but does it guarantee equal pay?

Gov. Andrew Cuomo signing legislature that expands equal pay laws proceeding the start of the New York City ticker tape parade celebrating the U.S. women’s soccer team’s World Cup victory.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo signing legislature that expands equal pay laws proceeding the start of the New York City ticker tape parade celebrating the U.S. women’s soccer team’s World Cup victory.
The Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo
Gov. Andrew Cuomo signing legislature that expands equal pay laws proceeding the start of the New York City ticker tape parade celebrating the U.S. women’s soccer team’s World Cup victory.

Cuomo signed pay equity legislation – but does it guarantee equal pay?

New state law prohibits employers from asking for salary history.
July 10, 2019

Before the start of the ticker tape parade celebrating the U.S. women’s soccer team’s World Cup win on Wednesday morning, Gov. Andrew Cuomo took to Twitter to announce another victory for women: his signing of “new pay equity legislation.”

The legislation Cuomo signed consisted of two separate bills: the “Pay Equity Bill” (S5248B/A8093A) and the “Salary History Bill” (S6549/A5308B). Both are meant to expand New York’s current laws preventing gender-based salary discrimination, according to a press release from the governor’s office.

While Cuomo boasted about his signing of new equal pay laws, deliberately echoing the women’s national soccer team’s equal pay call to action, the measures do not exactly guarantee equal pay in practice. “These are really important measures, but nothing in itself is a silver bullet to close the wage gap,” Andrea Johnson, senior counsel for state policy at the National Women’s Law Center, told City & State. 

The “Pay Equity Bill” will, as its language stipulates, prohibit employers from paying employees differently based on “protected class status” such as gender, sexual orientation, race, disability, age, religion, military service history and so on – expanding the definition of protected classes originally included in the New York State Fair Pay Act passed in 2018, which only prohibited employers from discriminating against employees based on “sex, race and/or national origin.” The “Salary History Bill” is designed to keep employers from asking prospective employees about their past salaries. (Basing salaries offered to new employees on their past earnings has been shown to perpetuate lower pay for women and people of color.) 

Women’s rights advocates say the bills will contribute to furthering the pay equity cause. “They’re proactive measures that will help stop wage gaps from being created to begin with, so that's super exciting,” Johnson said. “But then you also need to strengthen the underlying prohibition on pay discrimination, making it so an employee can go to court and enforce their rights, and that employers are incentivized to follow the law as well.”

Other bills to strengthen legal protections for women and people of color passed by the state Legislature this year include an extension and expansion of the state MWBE program and anti-harassment legislation

Although the state can’t eradicate workplace gender inequality overnight, it already is farther along than most states. On average, women in New York earn 89 cents per dollar earned by men, according to a state Department of Labor report released in April 2018 – the narrowest pay gap in any state, the report states. However, the gap is wider for women of color: Black women on average earn 64 cents per dollar and Latina women who earn 55 cents per dollar, compared to white men. 

“New York is definitely a leader when it comes to equal pay laws; they have some of the stronger laws in the country,” Johnson said. “So, I think now it's really a question of education and enforcement: making sure that employers know what their obligations are and that they're following the law.”

Amanda Luz Henning Santiago
Amanda Luz Henning Santiago
is City & State's web reporter and social media editor.
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