AstraZeneca: What We Learned

by Patricia Shiu and Sara Manzano-Diaz on June 9, 2011 · 2 comments

This week, the U.S. Department of Labor announced a settlement in our pay discrimination lawsuit against one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world, AstraZeneca. The company is a federal contractor that receives more than $2 billion to supply drugs and medical equipment to VA hospitals and centers across the country.

The Labor Department’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs found in its investigation that the company was discriminating against women by paying some of their female sales associates, on average, $1,700 less per year than men doing the same job. One hundred and twenty four AZ saleswomen will share in the $250,000 settlement. 

Many of the women had no idea they were experiencing discrimination.  That’s not surprising.  How would they know what their male counterparts were making?

The long-term impact of this case is significant for the company: AZ has agreed to re-examine pay practices in offices across 13 states and DC. The company’s management has committed to correcting any problems that are found. 

But this case is instructive on a larger scale, because it reminds us that solving the pay gap requires strong enforcement so businesses that do play by the rules and treat workers fairly don’t have to compete against those who do not.

To close the pay gap we need a better way to collect good data from employers so we can identify and root out discrimination. Better regulations regarding pay secrecy would allow women to talk openly about their salaries without fear of retaliation. And we must educate workers about their rights and employers of their obligations.

We’re tackling this problem from, well, A to Z.  The OFCCP is aggressively going after employers who discriminate and making enforcement a top priority. The agency is proposing the creation of a new data tool to improve our ability to identify bad actors. We’re also updating our regulations and supporting legislative efforts to strengthen protections for workers.

The Women’s Bureau has been reaching out to researchers, experts, community groups, business leaders and workers to develop educational materials and find common sense solutions.

And we’ve both teamed up with our colleagues at the White House, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Department of Justice and Office of Personnel Management to address these issues in other ways as well.

The problem of pay equity is not a new one. Forty-eight years after President Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act, women in America still earn, on average, 81 cents for every dollar earned by a man. Over a lifetime women stand to lose an average of $380,000 because of the pay gap. We’ve written about it before and will keep writing and blogging and tweeting and talking about it until the gap is closed for good. 

The outcome for the AZ workers is an important step forward in our efforts. We are committed to making equal pay a reality for everyone.

Shiu is the Director of OFCCP and Manzano-Díaz is the Director of the Women’s Bureau. Both represent DOL on President Obama’s National Equal Pay Enforcement Task Force.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Suzanne Bibb June 10, 2011 at 3:39 pm

As a compensation professional, my goal has been to work towards equal pay for equal work. But sometimes, it is difficult to quantify that equal work has been accomplished. On the other hand, there should be some ability to pay for seniority as well as equality without compliance issues.

2 Roth December 12, 2011 at 11:44 pm

It is great that these big pharmaceutical companies are being held accountable to honoring women’s work.

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