Justice Department headquarters in Washington.

Justice Department headquarters in Washington. Hiram Rios / Shutterstock

Justice Department Employees Urge Leadership to End Pay Disparities

A group of six associations within the Justice Department said the practice of asking job applicants for their salary history fuels inequitable pay.

A coalition of half a dozen Justice Department employee associations is urging department leaders to stop asking job applicants for their salary histories, saying the question contributes to pay disparities among workers.

The DOJ Gender Equity Network, Department of Justice Association of Black Attorneys, Blacks in Government’s Edward Woods, Jr., DOJ Chapter, DOJ Native American Association, DOJ Association of Hispanic Employees for Advancement and Development and DOJ Pride signed a letter earlier this month to the leaders of each component of the department asking them to remove the practice from the hiring process, arguing it contributes to unfair treatment of women, minorities and LGBTQ+ employees.

The groups, which collectively represent thousands of Justice Department employees, noted that asking job applicants for their salary history is no longer standard practice in the private sector. In fact, 19 states and more than 20 municipalities have banned the practice over its tendency to create pay discrimination.

“We have heard from many department employees who started between approximately 2012 and 2018—when salary history was often a required field in USA Jobs—that the department’s use of their salary history, including salaries based on prior federal service, resulted in inequitable pay disparities,” they wrote. “Our members have shared many experiences of being paid lower salaries than their similarly situated male and/or white counterparts upon entry and throughout their time at the department.”

The letter recounts the experience of one department employee, who discovered she was making less than a male counterpart despite having two additional years of experience, because those additional two years were at a public interest organization, driving down her salary history.

Shaun May, spokesman for the Federal Practice Group, a law firm that specializes in federal employment law, said that although an appeals court recently ruled that basing pay on employees’ salary history does not protect companies from lawsuits, that does not apply to federal workers.

“While earlier in 2020, the 9th Circuit held that employers may not rely on salary history as a defense to an Equal Pay Act claim, the [Equal Employment Opportunity Commission] has not held the same with regard to federal employees,” May said. “Under the EEOC’s case law, federal agencies can defend against an EPA claim by asserting that it is paying a woman less than a man for equal work because the woman was paid less than the man before the government hired them, and the agency relied on prior salary. Until the EEOC catches up, federal agencies could and should ban the practice of relying on prior salaries to set pay.”

The employee groups asked the department to eliminate questions about salary history from its job applications, instruct applicants not to include salary information in their resumes, and ban “any department official” from considering an applicant’s current or previous salary or status on the General Schedule pay scale.

“Therefore, when setting GS level and step, the department should consider only substantive qualifications, like relevant work experience,” the letter stated. “We also urge the department to be more transparent about how it makes salary determinations and to include such information in its publicly available materials.”

The Justice Department did not respond to a request for comment.