Today is “Equal Pay Day,” and as thousands of workers prepare to demand equal and fair wages for all, President Donald Trump has signed an executive order that rolls back Obama-era assisted victories for women in the workplace.
According to NBC News, Trump revoked the 2014 Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces order on Mar. 27. The order was signed by then-President Barack Obama and was put in place to ensure that corporations with federal contracts complied with 14 labor and civil rights laws.
The Fair Pay order was established after a 2010 investigation by the Government Accountability Office found that companies with growing violations were being awarded millions in federal contracts.
To keep companies with the most rampant violations from receiving taxpayer funds, the Fair Pay order enforced two rules that affected female workers. The order banned forced arbitration clauses for sexual harassment, sexual assault or discrimination claims and also established paycheck transparency.
Noreen Farrell is the director of the anti-sex discrimination law firm Equal Rights Advocates. She said Trump went “on the attack against workers and taxpayers.”
“We have an executive order that essentially forces women to pay to keep companies in business that discriminate against them, with their own tax dollars,” Farrell told NBC News. “It’s an outrage.”
Investigators took a look at the 50 worst wage theft violators between 2005 and 2009. 60 percent had been awarded federal contracts after facing penalties enforced by the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division.
The research didn’t review much about sexual assault and harassment claims because forced arbitration clauses—sometimes referred to as “cover-up clauses”—are commonly used to keep sex discrimination cases out of courts and off the public record.
“Arbitrations are private proceedings with secret filings and private attorneys and they often help hide sexual harassment claims,” Maya Raghu, Director of Workplace Equality at the National Women’s Law Center told NBC News. “It can silence victims. They may feel afraid of coming forward because they might think they are the only one, or fear retaliation.”
According to Raghu, arbitration clauses are increasingly becoming mandatory in employment contracts. She added that banning the practice was a vital step forward for victims of sexual assault and discrimination in the workplace.
Trump’s overturning of the Fair Pay order made it possible for businesses with federal contracts to continue to force sexual harassment cases into secret proceedings. That means there’s a good chance that the public and other employees may never hear about a company’s rampant sex discrimination claims.
The majority of workers, especially those in low-wage positions, don’t have the option to work around an arbitration clause.
“Unless you’re suing a deep-pocketed CEO, suing an individual for sexual harassment is not going to be the same as putting the employer on the hook for liability,” said Farrell. “You usually don’t get the same damages or results.”