President Barack Obama instituted the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Order in 2014, four years after the Government Accountability Office revealed how much money in federal contracts was being handed over to companies violating labor and civil rights laws. Trump just revoked it.
NBC News reports that Trump signed an executive order on March 27 that blows away the protections instituted by Obama’s 2014 order, which demanded companies that accepted federal contracts comply with 14 laws intended to protect workers. The two specific rules in the Fair Pay order which affected women workers the most were paycheck transparency obligations and an end to “forced arbitration clauses” or “cover-up clauses” in cases of sexual harassment in the workplace.
Mandatory arbitration clauses are frequently used in contracts as a way to force complainants to to have their accusations reviewed in private by the company they work for, keeping both the cases and records of a company’s history with harassment out of the public eye:
“Arbitrations are private proceedings with secret filings and private attorneys, and they often help hide sexual harassment claims,” said Maya Raghu, Director of Workplace Equality at the National Women’s Law Center. “It can silence victims. They may feel afraid of coming forward because they might think they are the only one, or fear retaliation.”
NBC News gives Gretchen Carlson’s case against Fox News executive Roger Ailes for sexual harassment as an example—an arbitration clause in Carlson’s contract prevented her from suing Fox News, but she was able to sue Ailes directly, though he tried to force the case into private proceedings. Few workers have the option of suing a harasser as prominent and wealthy as Ailes, however.
Trump’s signature also ends a company’s obligation to submit data about employee compensation to the government, so the cloaking devices have been activated on all fronts. Tax dollars at work, not paying for women’s work. Happy Equal Pay Day!