Nearly a dozen women are suing the Walt Disney Company for California gender discrimination, saying the corporation systemically denies fair pay to its female employees and that pay secrecy is integral to that inequality.
As our Los Angeles gender discrimination lawyers can explain, pay secrecy is a policy long used by employers that prohibits employee discussions about how much they earn. While silence over salaries tends to be the societal norm, it’s not the law. What’s more, it’s been shown to perpetuate gender pay disparity against women because it deprives female employees of the information they need to demand equal pay.
According to California Labor Code section 232, employers are banned from these types of secrecy policies and cannot discipline workers on the basis of wage disclosures. It hasn’t been a commonly litigated provision historically (it’s been a state law since 1985), but there has been somewhat of an uptick in these sorts of claims over the last several years. California law stipulates that employers cannot require employees to refrain from disclosing wages, require employees to waive this right or take averse employment action against workers who do. Employers who violate this provision (usually in conjunction with some other type of employment discrimination claim) can be compelled to pay substantial damages, including for lost wages and benefits, emotional distress and punitive damages.
There is also the California Fair Pay Act, which goes even further to shield employees’ right to discuss their own pay openly with co-workers. Beyond that, the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 prohibits employer retaliation against workers who talk wages with their co-workers.
And yet, some employers persist with policies like these.
The California Gender Discrimination Case Against Disney
In the recently-filed California gender discrimination case against Disney, 10 employees allege they were paid less as females than their male counterparts. The case started with two employees and eight more have since joined. For its part, the company vehemently denies the allegations, saying that both its policies and pay equity practices are “robust” and that plaintiff accusations are unfounded.
Last month, plaintiffs filed an expanded complaint in the Los Angeles County Superior Court, asserting that not only was gender discrimination at the company commonplace, but that the company continues a strict pay secrecy policy in direct violation of state employment law. Nearly a half dozen of the plaintiffs say they were repeatedly warned by their bosses never to talk about their pay with their co-workers. One of the plaintiffs involved in the case alleges direct knowledge of a situation wherein a female employee was disciplined for revealing her pay to fellow employees. Details of that allegation were not spelled out in the complaint.
Several of the plaintiffs were working in higher-paying positions. The company reportedly insisted promotions only occurred on a clearly-defined step ladder, yet the plaintiffs say men were allowed to skip steps. When one of the employees complained about this, she was reportedly told one of the male colleagues in question received the promotion because he was more of a retention risk because he was younger.
The case is still in the early stages, and it’s not clear whether it will be expanded to a class action lawsuit.
Gender Pay Disparity Persists in California
Disney is far from alone in facing these kinds of allegations – in California or otherwise. Recently, Google agreed to paying nearly $4 million to resolve claims of gender discrimination/unequal pay against women and Asian applicants. The issue was brought to light by the Labor Department, which uncovered the inequalities during a routine evaluation.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that in 2019, women who were full-time wage and salary workers in California had a median weekly earnings of about $911. That’s about 89 percent of the median weekly earnings of their male counterparts. That’s better than the national women’s-to-men’s earnings ratio of 81.5 percent, but still obviously a ways to go for equality.
Over the last few years, more than 40 major companies have agreed under political pressure to sign an equal pay pledge.
If you believe you have been paid less than your male counterparts on the basis of your gender, our Los Angeles employment attorneys can evaluate your claim and help you determine the best course of legal action.
Contact the employment attorneys at Nassiri Law Group, practicing in Orange County, Riverside and Los Angeles. Call 949-375-4734.
Pay Discrimination Suit Against Disney Adds Pay Secrecy Claim, March 18, 2021, By Brooks Barns, New York Times