On Equal Pay Day, Women Still Earn Less -- Even At YMCA

The YMCA doesn't have the most inclusive origins when it comes to women. Its name stands for Young Men's Christian Association, after all. But in the last few decades, the youth empowerment nonprofit has made gender equality one of its central tenets. Which is why it came as such a surprise when four women sued the YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh last month for paying them less than men in the same or lower positions.

Diane Dennison, 41, is the associate vice president of human resources and leadership at the Pittsburgh YMCA. After a few years there, she began to notice something funny with the numbers. Men at her exact same level, and who were newer to management, were being paid significantly more than she. Three other women in the office suspected the same thing, and they filed their lawsuit together.

Margaret O'Brien, the YMCA's 54-year-old director of training was paid $42,000 a year, but the male director of facilities was paid upward of $80,000 a year. That's more than even Deninson's $65,444-a-year salary, for a position higher than his.

The YMCA "is a strong advocate for equality and strictly follows a policy of nondiscrimination in all employment policies, practices and other aspects of employment," Stephan C. Davis, the agency's senior vice president of human resources and leadership, said in a statement. Their attorneys had examined the accusations, he said, and "based on our employment practices and history there is no validity to the complaints."

The YMCA claims that these jobs were at different levels, and no discrimination took place, according to the women's lawyer, Sam Cordes. But the YMCA actually used a rigid methodology to classify what jobs deserved the same salaries, known as the Hay System. And even women with the same number of points under that system as men were getting much smaller paychecks, according to the lawsuit.

Today is Equal Pay Day, designed to raise awareness of the fact that women in America still earn 77 cents for every dollar that their male peers take home (67 cents if they women are black and 58 cents if they're Latina). That gap represents an average loss of $10,622 a year, according to the National Women's Law Center, or over a year's worth of groceries ($3,210) and child care ($6,992), combined.

These figures are a little misleading, however, because they are the result of a lot of different causes. Women make less money because they are more likely to study subjects and go into sectors that pay less money, like teaching or care-giving. They also make less money because they're more likely than men to take time out from work or go part-time as they raise young children.

But even if you control for all these things, and compare men and women with the exact same job, and same years of experience, a stubborn little gap still remains. An "unexplained gap," as academics say.

A 2007 report from the American Association of University Women found that after controlling for every possible variable -- college major, GPA, occupation, industry, experience, education level, age, race/ethnicity, religion, marital status and number of children -- women still earned 5 percent less than men at one year out of college, and 12 percent less at 10 years out.

The major explanation, most scholars agree, is flat-out discrimination. And the number of wage-discrimination claims filed every year is a reminder that paying women less for equal work didn't die out with the pompadour. In fact, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed just as many claims under the Equal Pay Act in 2010 (1,044) as in 1999. And in 2010, more of them won a payout.

Just this month, Citicorp, the parent of Citibank, was ordered to pay $340,000 to one female worker for allegedly violating the Equal Pay Act. The woman reportedly earned $75,000 a year, when her predecessor with the exact same position made $130,000 the year earlier. In 2011, one of the world's largest pharmaceutical companies in the world, AstraZeneca, agreed to pay $250,000 to 124 women whom it paid, on average, $1,700 less a year than their male co-workers.

The four women suing the YMCA is just the latest case. Many women, it seems, may be laboring for years, unaware that they're shortchanged month-to-month.

"These organizations are put in place and they push as their agenda the fact that they want to eliminate discrimination and they want to create a fairer society," Cordes told reporters. "But you have to look in your own house first."

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