California Audit Takes|Big Counties to Task

     SACRAMENTO (CN) — Women consistently earn less money than their male counterparts working for several large California counties, the state auditor said in a report Tuesday.
     “County Pay Practices,” which focused on Fresno, Los Angeles, Orange and Santa Clara counties, found that female county employees’ total pay came to 73 percent to 88 percent of what male county employees earned.
     The subtitle of the report is: “Although the Counties We Visited Have Rules in Place to Ensure Fairness, Data Show That a Gender Wage Gap Still Exists.”
     Santa Clara County came out ahead of the other counties in several aspects studied.
     In each of the four counties, the gap widened slightly over the five-year period examined, from fiscal year 2010-11 through fiscal year 2014-15.
     “This report concludes that a gender wage gap continues to exist,” State Auditor Elaine Howle said in a letter to the governor and Legislature, included in the report.
     The report traced the pay gap to women being concentrated in lower-paid positions while men occupied more highly compensated jobs.
     “We generally found that men outnumbered women in classifications for which the average total compensation was $160,000 or more for fiscal year 2014-15, even though women accounted for between 54 percent and 60 percent of all full-time employees we reviewed,” the report states.
     In Los Angeles and Orange counties, most of the higher-paying jobs — such as fire captains and deputy sheriffs — were held by men. Only four of 622 fire captains in Los Angeles County were women, and fewer than 10 percent of Orange County’s deputy sheriffs were women.
     However, in Santa Clara County, women outnumbered men in highly paid physician jobs, 118 to 104.
     In looking at job classifications with similar compensation amounts, the audit found that pay disparities between men and women often ranged from less than 1 percent up to nearly 9 percent.
     For example, in job classifications in Orange County where the average total compensation was $240,000 or more, men earned an average of $268,122, while women in the same classifications earned an average of $265,165.
     Federal and state laws protect employees from discrimination based on gender and prohibit gender-based wage discrimination. But the law does not require counties to consistently monitor gender-based pay equality issues in hiring and salary-setting.
     The auditors said they did not find evidence of intentional gender discrimination in the four counties. The pay gap likely stemmed from a multitude of factors, including starting salaries, length of time in the same position, and whether the employee worked full-time or part-time during the entire year.
     The audit noted that women, more often than men, were hired at the lowest salary for a position, and that pay disparities sometimes continued when workers received raises based on a percentage of their original salary.
     Because the counties often did not keep records of why they hired a particular candidate over other qualified candidates, the auditors could not always determine whether counties were using valid job-related criteria in hiring.
     The counties could provide paperwork to justify their decisions in only 39 of 154 competitive hirings, the audit states.
     Santa Clara was the only one of the four counties where hiring managers were required to document their reasons for picking one qualified candidate over others. The auditors suggested that the other counties be required to document their hiring decisions, as well.
     The audit also recommended that the counties monitor and publicly report pay disparities by performing periodic reviews of total average compensation for male employees and female employees.
     Counties could also benefit from knowing tracking gender-based wage and promotion complaints, the audit states.
     “Knowing how frequently these complaints are filed and whether such complaints are focused at particular departments could be useful information for county officials as they attempt to monitor gender equity issues among their employees,” the report states.
     The counties generally agreed with the findings.
     Los Angeles County Chief Executive Sachi Hamai wrote in a response letter that the county already “requires a plethora of documentation such as a job candidate’s skills and qualifications” and has an appeal process “to ensure that the hiring selections are fair and merit-based.”
     Fresno County Administrative Officer Jean Rousseau said in her response letter that “we were not surprised that the auditors found that the County of Fresno’s policies and procedures were being followed in regards to the selection and salary setting of employees and that there were no instances of discrimination found.”

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