“How Much Do You Currently Make?” – Banning Salary History Questions

This post was written by Jessica Clay, a volunteer who serves on our Economic Justice Committee.

Women Are Still Paid Less Than Men

According to the National Women’s Law Center, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), American women who work full-time make only 79 to 80 cents for every dollar their male counterparts earn. Over the course of a year, this averages to more than $10,000 less in median earnings. The wag-gap is even more pronounced for women of color. The National Women’s Law Center found that Latina, Native American, and African American women make between 55 and 60 percent of the wages of white, non-Hispanic men, for full-time, year-round work.

Pay and compensation discrimination based on sex is prohibited under federal law by the Equal Pay Act of 1963, (EPA”), and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, (“Title VII”), as well as under many state and local laws. The laws apply to all forms of employee compensation:  salary, bonuses, overtime pay, holiday pay, stock options and profit sharing, reimbursements, and benefits. Under the EPA, men and women are required to be given equal pay for equal work in the same establishment for jobs that are substantially equal. It is permissible, under the Act, to pay individuals differently based on seniority, merit, the quality or quantity of production, or any factor other than sex.  Title VII, likewise, prohibits discrimination in compensation based on sex, as well as, race, color, national origin, religion, or disability. Title VII, unlike the EPA, does not require that the employee’s job be substantially equal to a male counterpart. Likewise, Title VII does not require the comparator to work in the same establishment.

New Laws Preventing the Perpetuation of the Wage Gap

While pay discrimination can be based on experience, education, merit, or industry, it can also be perpetuated by allowing new employers to justify salaries based on the discriminatory pay of former employers. There is a growing trend of states and cities proposing legislation that bars an employer from asking a potential employee about their salary history. These laws are based on the idea that pay discrimination can follow a woman from employer to employer, throughout her career, because each job move is based on pay that is already lower than her male counterparts. Basically, pay discrimination can be compounded from job to job, throughout a woman’s career. These proposed laws seek to prohibit employers from relying on prior, likely inequitable, compensation-levels when setting salaries for incoming employees. Opponents of these measures contend that the law are unnecessary and will hurt the hiring process.

Earlier this year, in Rizo v. Yovino, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, overturning a lower court ruling in California, held that employers may pay women less than men for the same job based on their previous salaries. In other words, if a woman is paid less than a male counterpart because of pay discrimination at her former employer, her next employer can legally continue that pay disparity. The Ninth Circuit rejected the reasoning of the lower court, which concluded that basing women’s salaries on their prior salaries was inherently discriminatory because women likely faced pay discrimination at their previous jobs because of gender bias.

To prevent the perpetuation of the wage-gap, Philadelphia, New York City, and Massachusetts, have all passed laws that prohibit employers from asking job candidates about their salary history or benefits before making a job or salary offer. Women often start out their careers with unequal pay, and the wage discrimination follows them throughout their careers, from job to job. Last year, Massachusetts passed the first law that bars an employer from asking an applicant about their current salary or salary history.  Philadelphia’s law, which was set to go into effect on May 23, is on hold by a federal court. New York’s law, an amendment to the NYC Human Rights Law, is set to go into effect later this year, and Massachusetts’s in July of 2018. In January, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo also proposed two executive orders aimed at eliminating the wage gap for public employees.  Numerous other states and local governments, are all considering similar laws, including: California, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington D.C. The expectation is that, if employers don’t set employee wages based on discriminatory salary history, instead salaries would be strictly market-based. A bill prohibiting employers from asking salary-history questions during job interviews nation-wide, has also been proposed at the federal level. Currently, the proposed Pay Equity for All Act of 2016, (H.R. 6030) is in the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.

Linking women’s salary to their previous salary can compound wage discrimination in the workplace. While much is still left to be done to close the wage gap, these types of laws are a step in the right direction. We must continue the fight for Equal Pay.



H.R.6030 – Pay Equity for All Act of 2016 114th Congress (2015-2016), https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/house-bill/6030

Facts About Equal Pay and Compensation Discrimination, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, https://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/publications/fs-epa.cfm

FAQ About the Wage Gap, National Women’s Law Center, https://nwlc.org/resources/faq-about-the-wage-gap/

Introduction of the Pay Equity Act of 2016, Congressional Record, September 14, 2016, Extension of Remarks, https://www.congress.gov/crec/2016/09/14/CREC-2016-09-14-pt1-PgE1269-3.pdf

Equal Pay Act Charges (Charges filed with EEOC), (includes concurrent charges with Title VII, ADEA, ADA, and GINA) FY 1997 – FY 2016, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, https://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/statistics/enforcement/epa.cf1m

Written Testimony of Jocelyn C. Frye, Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress, Hearing of March 16, 2016 – Public Input into the Proposed Revisions to the EEO-1 Report, https://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/meetings/3-16-16/frye.cfm

Asking for Salary History Perpetuates Pay Discrimination from Job to Job, National Women’s Law Center, https://nwlc.org/resources/asking-for-salary-history-perpetuates-pay-discrimination-from-job-to-job/

Lawmakers Advance Bill to Ban Salary History Questions, U.S. News and World Report, Best States, New Jersey News, https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/new-jersey/articles/2017-05-23/lawmakers-advance-bill-to-ban-salary-history-questions

Banning Salary History Questions: A Game Changer?, Society for Human Resource Management, Oct. 6, 2016, https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/compensation/pages/banning-salary-history.aspx

Recruiting and “Off-Limits” Questions about Salary History – What Employers Need to Know, Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP, https://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=0c070d26-9a3f-4aa4-ac68-757f41653682

Legislation Limiting an Employer’s Ability to Inquire About and Consider Applicants’ Prior Salary History Gains Momentum, Employment Matters Blog, https://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=a066dabe-216e-402c-b6c7-19afba71f10f

The “New York Promise Agenda” Promises to Increase Employee Protections, Orrick Employment Law and Litigation, http://blogs.orrick.com/employment/2017/01/23/the-new-york-promise-agenda-promises-to-increase-employee-protections/

A Great Resource: OESW’s Monthly Newsletter

Did you know that Minnesota has an Office on the Economic Status of Women? OESW advises the legislature and provides information and statistics on women in Minnesota. The office gathers information on population characteristics, educational attainment and enrollments, marital and parental status, household characteristics, labor force status and employment characteristics, and basic information on women’s legal and economic rights.

OESW publishes a monthly newsletter, and their May issue is a follow up to February’s, which included research findings about media coverage of women’s sports. Check it out below.



Hillary Rodham Clinton’s Letter in Response to MN NOW Award

At our State Conference on March 25th we awarded Hillary Rodham Clinton our Charlotte Striebel Long Distance Runner Award. While she was unable to accept the award in person, she did send us a lovely letter in response. Click the link below to read the letter.

20170326 MN NOW greeting

Women’s History Month, Minnesota Edition: Nellie Stone Johnson

In honor of Women’s History Month we’re writing a series of blog posts about famous (and not so famous) women from Minnesota history. Our second post in the series is about African American union and civil rights leader Nellie Stone Johnson.


Nellie Stone Johnson was born on a farm in Lakeville, MN on December 17, 1905. Her mother was trained as a teacher, though she spent much of her time working on the farm. Her father was a farmer, organizer, and a school board member in Dakota and Pine County. He helped organize the Twin Cities Milk Producers Association and was a member of the Non-Partisan League. Johnson and her family re-located to a larger farm near Hinckley when she was a teenager.

At the age of 17, Johnson left Pine County to finish her high school education by taking extension courses at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. She got involved with the Young Communist League while she was a student and used some of what she learned in her later work organizing labor.

Johnson got a job as an elevator operator at the Minneapolis Athletic Club in 1924, but was fired several years later for labor union activities. She moved on to the West Hotel, where she worked until new owners decided that they no longer wanted to employ African Americans. She returned to the Athletic Club in 1933 and started her (official) work as a labor organizer the next year when her employer decided to cut wages.

Johnson’s life was one of many firsts, despite her assertion that she was simply “a farm gal from Minnesota”. In 1936, Johnson was elected as the vice president of her local union, the Minneapolis Hotel and Restaurant Workers Union. She was the first woman elected to that position. She was also the first woman vice president of the Minnesota Culinary Council and the first woman to serve on a national contract committee where she helped negotiate equal pay for women.

Johnson was active in the Farmer-Labor party in the 1930s and 40s and helped facilitate the merger of the Democratic and Farmer-Labor parties in 1944. She became the first African American elected to a city-wide office in Minneapolis when she won election to the Minneapolis Library Board in 1945. She helped create Minneapolis’ first Fair Employment Practices Commission, which was established by executive order by Mayor Hubert H. Humphrey in 1946, and also spearheaded passage of Minnesota’s Fair Employment and Fair Housing Laws in the 1950s.

Johnson opened her own business, Nellie’s Alterations, in Minneapolis in 1963. In 1972, she campaigned for Van White, the first African American elected to the Minneapolis City Council.

Johnson received an honorary doctorate from St. Cloud State University in 1995. She was a long-time member of the NAACP and the National Council of Negro Women and served on the Minnesota State University Board for eight years. She was also a member of the National Coalition of Labor Women, the National League of Women Voters, the DFL Affirmative Action Commission, and the DFL Feminist Caucus, a former board member of the Minneapolis Urban League, and recipient of the Urban League’s Cecil E. Newman Humanitarian Award.

Nellie Stone Johnson died in Minneapolis on April 2, 2002, at the age of 96.


1. Johnson, Nellie Stone, and David Brauer. Nellie Stone Johnson: the life of an activist. Saint Paul, MN: Ruminator, 2001. Print.

2. “Who was Nellie Stone Johnson?” Who was Nellie Stone Johnson? N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Mar. 2017.

3. “Johnson, Nellie Stone (1905–2002).” MNopedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Mar. 2017.

4. Minnesota, Barb Kucera Workday, and RUSA Leighann Wood. “A Nellie Stone Johnson Timeline.” Workday Minnesota. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Mar. 2017.

5. “A Brief History of Civil Rights Protection in Minneaplis.” http://www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/www/groups/public/@civilrights/documents/webcontent/convert_253586.pdf. Web. 16 Mar. 2017.

Women’s History Month, Minnesota Edition: Coya Knutson

In honor of Women’s History Month we’re writing a series of blog posts about famous (and not so famous) women from Minnesota history. Our first post is about political pioneer Coya Knutson.


Coya Knutson, born Cornelia Gjesdahl in 1912 on a farm in Edmore, ND, was the first woman elected to represent the State of Minnesota in the United States House of Representatives.

Knutson graduated with a degree in education from Concordia College in Moorhead, MN in 1934 and left for New York to pursue an education in opera at The Julliard School. She returned to the Midwest when her music career didn’t pan out, teaching high school classes in North Dakota and Minnesota. She married Andy Knutson in 1940 and re-located to Oklee, Minnesota, where she worked as a school teacher and helped her husband run a small hotel.

Knutson, like many other women who have run for elected office, got involved in politics through community activism. According to her House of Representatives biography, she “served as a field agent for the Agricultural Adjustment Administration, investigating issues of price support. She helped establish the Oklee Medical Clinic, a local Red Cross branch, and the Community Chest Fund.”

She joined the newly formed Democratic-Farmer-Labor (DFL) party in the 1940’s and was appointed chair of the DFL’s Red Lake County organization in 1948. The DFL encouraged her to run for the state legislature; she did so and was elected to serve in the Minnesota House in 1950. After serving two terms she decided that she wanted to run for Congress, despite opposition from DFL party leaders. She self-financed her campaign and traveled the state to talk to voters. She beat the DFL-endorsed candidate in the primary election and then went on to defeat six-term Republican incumbent Harold Hagen in the general election.

Once in Congress, she served on the Agriculture Committee and advocated for policies that helped farmers. She also advocated for funding for cystic fibrosis research and a federal student financial aid program. A bill that she wrote, which helped establish the first federal student loan program, was included in the National Defense Education Act (NDEA) that was passed in 1958.

Days after the district convention in 1958, Knutson’s husband released a letter (believed to have been written by DFLers who held a grudge against Knutson) that called on Knutson to give up her bid for re-election and return home to care for her family. The letter received considerable media attention and it, along with rumors that she was having an affair with an aide, likely helped lead to her defeat in the 1958 election.

In 1961 Knutson was appointed as the liaison officer for the Department of Defense in the Office of Civil Defense, where she served from 1961 to 1970. She divorced her alcoholic, abusive husband in 1962. She attempted to become involved in electoral politics again in 1977 but was unsuccessful.

Knutson died on October 10, 1996 at the age of 82.

Sources: Minnesota Historical Society LibGuide: “Coya Knutson: Groundbreaking Conrgresswoman.” Web address: http://libguides.mnhs.org/knutson

United States House of Representatives History, Art, and Archives. Web address: http://history.house.gov/People/Detail/16457

Halloran, Liz. “The Congresswoman Whose Husband Called Her Home.” May 10, 2014. Web address: http://www.npr.org/sections/itsallpolitics/2014/05/10/310996960/the-congresswoman-whose-husband-called-her-home

Looking Back on 2016, Moving Forward in 2017

Last year was a busy one for Minnesota NOW!

In January we celebrated the anniversary of Roe v. Wade with cupcakes and feminist fun. Here’s a photo of one participant getting their “declaration of bodily autonomy” signed by a Supreme Court judge (AKA Repro Rights committee member).

In March activists attended ERAMN’s Day of Action on International Women’s Day (March 8th). Minnesota NOW also had a presence at Planned Parenthood’s annual solidarity event.

We held our state conference in April at Normandale Community College. Attendees discussed the presidential election and heard from nonprofit organizations like Planned Parenthood and Communities United Against Police Brutality/the Committee for Professional Policing. Awards were given to deserving MN NOW activists and new board members were elected.

Image may contain: 1 person, standing
Michelle Gross from Communities United Against Police Brutality and the Committee for Professional Policing talks about police brutality and accountability

Volunteers tabled at the Pride festival in June, while other Minnesota NOW activists attended the National NOW Conference and the Whole Woman’s Health rally in Washington, DC.

In August we hosted our Women’s Equality Day Happy Hour at Fabulous Fern’s. State Senator Dick Cohen stopped by to talk about state efforts to pass an Equal Rights Amendment.

In November, Donald Trump was elected President and Republicans maintained control of Congress. The Minnesota House and Senate are now controlled by Republicans as well.

We played board games and ate yummy food at our holiday party in December.

We also hosted several activist open houses, volunteered on political campaigns, and ramped up our committee work in 2016.

This year we’re going to be playing a lot of defense. Our governor, Mark Dayton, is a pretty strong ally on most of our issues but those in power at the federal level are not. Stay tuned to our website for upcoming events and action alerts.

I’m with Hillary

by Beth Anderson, MN NOW Treasurer

I’m With Hillary. Always have been. She’s a woman who has been in public life for as long as I can remember. Her issues have been my issues over the years; women’s rights, healthcare, international affairs. And now she is seeking to be the first woman President of the United States.

As a feminist and a woman in a predominantly male field, I can identify with the sexism both subtle and overt that comes with that territory. The first women who dared to enter the fields of science and engineering were punished for their ambition and interests. For many of them their work was stolen, they were under-employed and underpaid, and they faced sexual harassment in the workplace. I can tell you that some things haven’t changed that much over the last 200 years. My electrical engineering class at North Dakota State University graduated under a dozen women in 1983. Most of us have gone on to have successful careers, but we have all faced obstacles rooted in sexism. Some drop out, some change jobs, some challenge the sexism head on. It has been a struggle, though not as bad as it was a generation ago. And the reason for that is the many brave women who went before me, opening doors, demanding rights, and mentoring the next generation.

So when I see a woman actually leading us into new political territory in this country, I can’t help but smile! Hillary Clinton’s historic nomination by a major political party to be the next President of the United States fills me with pride. It has taken a long time, 240 years from that first Independence Day in 1776, to get this far.

However, you can still see the sexism at work. Hillary Clinton is one of the most qualified candidates running for President––ever. Yet she is vilified, made fun of, and scorned by so many. I sometimes think the worst sexism is the more subtle sexism that permeates our society, the damning by faint praise. We hear people say, “Well, she wasn’t my first choice, but I’ll probably vote for her because the alternative is worse.” Really? Why not “Yay! We have a qualified, woman candidate who has worked hard for our issues over the last 25 years and I can’t wait to vote for her in the next election!” If either party had produced a male candidate with Clinton’s credentials he would have been crowned nominee early in the process. That is sexism at work.

I’m not one to say that Hillary Clinton has never made a mistake. Nor will I vote for her just because she is a woman. But I do think she should be judged by the same standards you would a male candidate.

People criticize Clinton for being “dishonest.” Yet PolitiFact, a fact-checking website that rates the accuracy of claims of politicians, has rated her the most truthful presidential candidate running in either party in 2016. If you check out her ratings compared to those of her opponent, there is no question which candidate is the more truthful in their statements. Clinton is held to a different standard; that is sexism at work.

People criticize her for being paid for her speeches, particularly those given to potential constituent groups. As a person who has attended several professional conferences, I can tell you that this is normal. Celebrities, politicians, and experts in their field give speeches to all kinds of groups and are generally paid for their time. For example, in the last several years, both President Bill Clinton and Justice Antonin Scalia spoke at separate National Conferences for the DRI, an organization of Defense Attorneys. I attended both speeches and they couldn’t have been more different. I’m sure they were both paid for their time and for giving those speeches. And yet, I doubt if either Justice Scalia or President Clinton felt beholden to the members of the DRI because they received those speaking fees. Hillary Clinton is held to a different standard; that is sexism at work.

And of course there are the “scandals.” Clinton has been criticized for everything from her lack of interest in cookie baking to her use of a private email server when she was Secretary of State. Yet in investigation after investigation she has been cleared of wrong doing. She has been grilled by journalists, congressional members, and the FBI about everything from her relationship with her husband to her financial practices. Why does Hillary Clinton continue to be the target of scandal after scandal when there has been no evidence of wrong doing on her part? That is sexism at work.

Hillary Clinton has answered to the Senate, to Congress, and to the President of the United States. She has been a role model for women who face extra hurdles competing in a male dominated field. She conducts herself with integrity and never gives up. With all the criticism and challenges that Hillary Clinton has faced over her career, one could forgive her for quitting the field. Yet she has not.

Hillary Clinton is pushing the envelope. She has faced the challenges of sexism head on and won. She has opened doors for the next generation. Hillary Clinton is challenging the status quo and our image of what a President looks like, just like Barack Obama did. It is a privilege in our current time to have this kind of choice. For these reasons and many others, I’m with Hillary. She will forever change what is true and real for our daughters and our next generation of politicians.