The Trump administration sent a memo on Tuesday announcing its plan to halt a planned Obama-era rule meant to advance equal pay. Starting in the spring of 2018, businesses with 100 or more employees would have had to add salary information to their existing federal reporting on the race and gender demographics of their workforces. Neomi Rao, who runs the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, has told the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to stop the rule from going into effect, claiming that it would be “enormously burdensome” to companies.
Rao also wrote in her memo to acting EEOC Chair Victoria Lipnic that the rule may violate the Paperwork Reduction Act, a federal law meant to reduce unnecessary mandatory paperwork. The Office of Management and Budget “is concerned that some aspects of the revised collection of information lack practical utility, are unnecessarily burdensome, and do not adequately address privacy and confidentiality issues,” Rao wrote.
The Department of Labor has been collecting demographic data from employers for half a century to assess possible cases of hiring discrimination. Currently, companies with 100 or more workers report their race and gender stats in 10 job groups. The rule the Trump administration has stayed would have required that they also report those stats across 12 “pay bands.” The Obama administration introduced the rule in January 2016, on the seventh anniversary of the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. At the time, White House advisor Valerie Jarrett and the then-chair of the EEOC applauded the new rule as a way to beef up the federal government’s enforcement of existing equal-pay laws. When she unveiled the rule, Yang said the data would help the EEOC analyze pay disparities in different industries, launch “larger, more complex investigations” into wage discrimination, and make stronger cases when people report their employers for unequal pay.
Tuesday’s news wasn’t a complete surprise, because Trump thinks wage discrimination isn’t a real issue. Four days ago, he issued a memo declaring August 26, the anniversary of the 19th Amendment, “Women’s Equality Day,” as previous presidents have done. “My Administration is committed to fostering an economy where all women can succeed and thrive,” he wrote, praising efforts to help women entrepreneurs and establish universal paid family leave. But he’s previously said that “you’re gonna make the same if you do as good a job,” and “when you have to categorize men and women into a particular group and a particular pay scale, it gets very—because people do different jobs,” implying that the gender and race wage gaps are attributable to poor performance and self-selection into different careers. He’s also repealed rules that forced federal contractors to be transparent about their wages and stay away from forced-arbitration clauses that make it easier for companies to cover up cases of sexual harassment.
But while Trump’s new blow to equal pay is right in line with the values he espouses, it’s a telling change of tune for Ivanka, who has made equal pay a core part of her campaign to seem like a reasonable, trustworthy, pro-woman foil to her father. One might have expected her to anonymous-source her way out of this debate, leaking that she tried to get Trump to reconsider his plans to declaw the EEOC’s anti-discrimination investigations. Instead, she said she agrees with her dad’s decision. “While I believe the intention was good and agree that pay transparency is important, the proposed policy would not yield the intended results,” she said in a statement. “We look forward to continuing to work with EEOC, OMB, Congress and all relevant stakeholders on robust policies aimed at eliminating the gender wage gap.” Her statement is transparently dumb: There is no way to make an honest case for the position that more data and transparency will not help the EEOC identify possible cases of wage discrimination or prosecute those flagged by employees. If Ivanka wants to close the gender wage gap, letting companies keep their wages secret is a bad way to start.
Ultimately, the Trump calculus here was simple. Businesses know they’ll be more likely to get on the hook for unequal pay if they have to report their pay structures disaggregated by demographics, so that’s likely why they don’t want to do it. The Wall Street Journal reports that Lipnic once said of the rule that the “benefits of this are not worth the costs” to businesses. Businesses already have the information they’d need to report, since they already report demographic data—all it would take to organize it by pay would be a bit of futzing with a spreadsheet the first year. It’s not the cost of reporting that’s so unacceptable to businesses that they’ve gotten the Chamber of Commerce to lobby against the rule. It’s the cost of being sued for discrimination. In the power struggle between the victims of that discrimination and the mostly white men who exploit them for profit, Ivanka has publicly chosen her side.