In a new ruling from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, equal pay for equal work was dealt a huge blow. The court ruled women can be paid less than their male counterparts based on salary history — and thanks to its ruling, there's little legal recourse left for women who seek to combat such wage disparity. Even more infuriating is that the 9th Circuit Court's ruling on Thursday only perpetuates the cycle of gender-based wage gaps for individual female employees desperately trying to keep compensatory pace with their male colleagues.
The federal court overturned a lower court ruling from 2015 that said it was discriminatory and in violation of the federal Equal Pay Act for employers to use wage histories as the sole justification to pay two employees different salaries for the same work. In overturning the lower court ruling, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals cited a 1982 ruling that said employers were well within their rights to use employees' previous salary history when determining pay, so long as it is done "reasonably" and conformed to established company policy.
"The logic of the decision is hard to accept," Dan Siegel, a lawyer for the plaintiff told the Associated Press. "You're OK'ing a system that perpetuates the inequity in compensation for women."
The ruling is not just maddening, it's surprising, too. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court has often held a "liberal" reputation. Case in point: It was the 9th Circuit Court that has stood in the way of Trump's travel bans — twice. But Thursday's ruling is anything but liberal or progressive, and fails to take into account the reality of gender wage disparity in the United States.
According to the Center for American Progress, women earn 79 cents to every man's dollar. And even though you'd expect a person's salary to increase as they continue throughout their career, that wage gap doesn't manage to close, either — in fact, it widens. For women aged 15 to 24 working full time, the wage gap is just over $4,000 per year. By the time these women are ages 45 to 64, that wage gap will have more than tripled.
And that's what makes the federal court's ruling so blindingly short-sighted: If a woman has already been paid less than her male colleagues over the life of her career, she can never get ahead if her employer uses her salary history as justification for how much she is paid. Siegel has not yet said what his client's next step will be in the face of Thursday's disappointing and frustrating ruling, but he did tell the Associated Press it's entirely possible this case could go to the U.S. Supreme Court.
While the Supreme Court finally has a full bench after more than 400 days since Justice Antonin Scalia's death, followers shouldn't get too comfortable that the case could be heard before all nine justices. Trump's SCOTUS appointee Neil Gorsuch has a history of siding with corporations' best interests rather than the welfare of their employees.
Until then, the federal court ruling has basically told women that no matter how hard they work, they can't escape the disparate gendered confines of their own wage histories.