Pay-Inequality. Photo: Greg Brave/Shutterstock.com

Equal-pay advocates filed a motion Wednesday pushing a federal judge to decide whether the Trump administration’s move last year to scuttle a measure that would have required businesses to report its pay data was illegal.

Attorneys with Democracy Forward, which represent the National Women’s Law Center and the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, moved for summary judgment in the lawsuit that aims to reverse the rollback of the reporting requirement on an annual report required by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission aimed at targeting pay discrepancies.

The advocacy groups suggest that the government cowed to business groups that loathed the requirement.

“This data is essential to try to limit pay disparities between women and people of color,” said Robin Thurston, Democracy Forward’s senior counsel. “The administration’s prolonged stay is hurting people who are making less money than they should.”

The EEOC under the Obama administration cleared a measure that would have required companies to include on an annual report, the EEO1, pay information as well as gender, race and ethnicity breakdown for its workers. This move was aimed at addressing the pay gaps for women and people of color. Recent data show that women make 80 cents on the dollar, compared with male counterparts. For women of color, the gap is larger. Latina women make 53 cents and African-American women make 63 cents on the dollar compared with white men.

Before the new reporting requirements took effect, however, the administration rolled back that provision through the Office of Management and Budget Office in August 2017. The advocates filed the lawsuit against the OMB and the EEOC in November, arguing that the administration did not have the right to scuttle this requirement, and it dismissed a six-year regulatory process the agency took on to craft the new reporting requirements.

U.S. Department of Justice attorneys, representing the government agencies, declined to comment. 

Business groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Equal Employment Advisory Council, opposed the requirements, claiming that the revised rule would lead to administrative hassles and unfairly open them to liability.

Since the lawsuit was filed, the groups have been fighting for standing in the case. The motion filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia aims to address the dispute on the merits to attempt to reinstate the reporting requirement as soon as possible, Thurston said.

Democracy Forward attorneys also point to the role of the Trump administration’s Neomi Rao, the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs administrator who, according to documents the groups obtained through open records requests, said there was no “practical utility” to collect employee pay data. Rao was reportedly interviewed by President Donald Trump to fill the vacancy left on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit when Brett Kavanaugh moved up to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Information requested through Freedom of Information Act requests by the advocates show that industry lobbyists reached out to then-OMB director Mick Mulvaney, Rao and other administration officials from February through August 2017, according to Democracy Forward. The lawsuit is filed against the OMB and the EEOC and names Mulvaney, Rao and EEOC chairwoman Victoria Lipnic as defendants.

“It’s a disturbing pattern of the Trump administration to hide behind closed doors with industry lobbyists when halting worker protections,” Thurston said. “In rolling back equal pay requirements, the Trump administration is wrong on the law and wrong in its continued effort to disregard the impact of pay disparities suffered by millions of women, minorities and other working Americans.”