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04/20/2018 07:06 pm ET

LA Times Union Preparing Class-Action Lawsuit Over 'Illegal Pay Disparities'

Last week, an analysis of the newsroom's pay structure revealed wide discrepancies along racial and gender lines.
Los Angeles Times staffers have expressed anger and shock over recently discovered pay discrepancies at the newspaper. 
Raymond Boyd via Getty Images
Los Angeles Times staffers have expressed anger and shock over recently discovered pay discrepancies at the newspaper. 

Representatives for the Los Angeles Times’ recently unionized newsroom are readying a class-action lawsuit as a backup plan to address “illegal pay disparities” at the newspaper, the union announced Friday.

In an email sent to newsroom staffers, the Los Angeles Times Guild officers and bargaining committee said they had formally requested that the newspaper’s leadership meet with them to grapple with recently discovered pay gaps. 

“Our immediate concern is fully addressing illegal pay disparities on an individual basis,” they wrote. 

In case the newspaper’s owners decide not to engage, the committee added that it is in the process of “preparing a class action lawsuit, as a second option, with assistance from the law firm that also represents the Guild.”

Last week, the union released a comprehensive analysis of the newsroom’s pay structure, based upon data provided by the paper’s parent company, Tronc, as a part of the collective bargaining process. The union determined that “Tronc has underpaid women and journalists of color by thousands of dollars a year at the Los Angeles Times, suggesting systemic salary gaps by race and gender.”

latguild.com

The release of the report led to widespread frustration within the newsroom.

“People are angry, rightfully so,” said one newsroom source, who added that many employees felt “abused and taken advantage of.” 

Just who will end up fixing the newsroom’s pay structure ― if anyone ― remains unclear. In February, less than a month after the newsroom voted to form a union, Tronc agreed to sell the Times to health care mogul and billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong for $500 million. The sale has yet to be finalized. 

In a separate email sent Friday to Times Deputy Managing Editor Colin Crawford and cc’ed to Soon-Shiong, a union representative said that any ambiguity related to ownership was no excuse not to start discussions over the pay gaps. “If the Employer believes its authority to negotiate over this issue may be limited because of the impending sale, we stand ready to discuss such limitations when we meet,” the email read in part. 

A Tronc spokesperson said, “We at the Los Angeles Times strive to pay our employees fairly and competitively in the context of our dynamic media business. Many legitimate factors weigh into the salaries for our professional journalists, who each bring individualized talents, experiences and contributions to our news operations. We plan to evaluate the Guild’s assessment of generalized pay differences in light of the realities of our news operation.”

Times Editor-in-Chief Jim Kirk did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“The leadership of the LA Times, be it current owners or future, need to fix this as soon as possible,” said the newsroom source, adding, “This newsroom is yet again in revolt.”

Here is the full email sent out to newsroom staffers on Friday: 

Colleagues,

In the wake of our pay equity study, many of you have expressed concerns that you are a victim of pay discrimination under the California Fair Pay Act. Many of you have asked for both individual guidance on how to proceed as well as a plan of action from the Los Angeles Times Guild to rapidly address these illegal pay disparities.

We held an open meeting with our attorney and our Guild representative on Wednesday, and settled on the following plan of action:

1. Bargaining

The L.A. Times Guild has asked the company to bargain over the issue. Our goal is to quickly achieve raises and seek back pay for affected employees. We sent that request to bargain earlier today, which you can find attached to this email.

To be clear: this will be a separate track from our negotiations over our main collective bargaining agreement, which we have not yet begun because of the pending sale of the paper.

Our immediate concern is fully addressing illegal pay disparities on an individual basis. Contract proposals to help prevent this problem from recurring (such as pay minimums or step increases) will come later. The Diversity & Equity committee ... will be in touch about those proposals.

2. Legal action

We are preparing a class action lawsuit, as a second option, with assistance from the law firm that also represents the Guild. The potential class action would be filed by a named plaintiff or plaintiffs in coordination with the Guild’s efforts to get the company to negotiate a timely and satisfactory agreement to address pay disparities. We will provide more information as this process develops.

If you would like to determine whether you would be covered by a class action under the California Fair Pay Act (should it be filed), or have other questions about the potential lawsuit, reach out to [union officers]. ...

Please be aware that this is an intensive process and that we are juggling dozens of requests, so we will do our best to get back to you in a timely manner.

Questions & Answers

Q: Should I retain my own attorney or file an individual lawsuit or wage claim?

A: That is your right. However, we feel strongly the best way to address this issue is for the affected employees to stick together and pursue our plan as a unified group. The only way to ensure we fully correct the problem is to work as a group, not reach a series of individual agreements.

Q: My manager has asked me to write a memo describing my accomplishments and asking for a raise. How should I proceed?

A: We strongly advise you to avoid writing a memo or asking for a raise individually if you are a victim of pay discrimination. The best way to address this issue is as a group. But beyond that, we think it’s highly problematic for managers to frame illegal pay discrimination — a systemic problem in our newsroom and in society — in terms of merit. You should never have to describe your achievements and qualifications in order to make the same as men or white people who do similar work as you. The exercise is offensive on its face and we should not participate.

Q: What if I already submitted a memo?

A: Here’s some language we recommend sending to your manager: “The wage inequities identified by the Guild pay study show issues based on a systemic problem, not due to merit. Any merit increase would be on top of addressing such inequity. We ask that the Employer respond to the union’s request to negotiate so these issues can be addressed for everyone.”

Q: Does the union think we should wipe out merit-based pay?

A: Not at all. Pay equity and merit-based compensation are two separate issues. To be clear, the union is never opposed to management giving employees better compensation on the basis of merit.

Q: Are there any records I should retain?

A: Yes, if you have time you should download all of your information from Workday before the sale of the paper closes. Critical records include past performance reviews and salary history. You should also save copies of any communication with management or human resources about your salary or performance.

Q: What if I am a victim of another form of pay discrimination, such as age?

A: We’re not leaving you behind, and we intend to investigate and address any claims of discrimination. Age discrimination is covered by a different law with a different standard of proof, so this will have to be considered separately. If you have concerns, please get in touch with us. ...

Thank you all for your strength and your resilience. Together, we will work to resolve this issue as quickly as possible.

— The Los Angeles Times Guild Officers & Bargaining Committee

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