All the Money in the World: Mark Wahlberg, Michelle Williams, and wage disparity issues

January 22, 2018 - by: Kristin Starnes Gray 0 COMMENTS
Kristin Starnes Gray

In the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal and the ongoing Hollywood reckoning, Kevin Spacey’s downfall was swift following accusations from Anthony Rapp that Spacey sexually assaulted him at the age of 14.  Since Rapp came forward, several others have joined him in accusing Spacey of sexual misconduct and predatory behavior.  Netflix suspended production of House of Cards, and director Ridley Scott began pursuing rapid reshoots to recast Spacey’s role in the true crime thriller All the Money in the World.  Ironically, efforts to eradicate Spacey’s shadow of sexual harassment allegations inadvertently led to a highly publicized discussion about sex-based pay disparities.

Regarding the reshoots necessary to replace Spacey with Christopher Plummer, Scott stated in interviews that all cast members (with the exception of Plummer) completed the reshoots free of charge.    Michelle Williams, one of the film’s stars, confirmed that she agreed to do the reshoots for free and that “it is our little act of trying to right a wrong.  And it sends a message to predators–you can’t get away with this anymore.  Something will be done.”

However, earlier this month, USA Today reported that another one of the film’s stars, Mark Wahlberg was paid $1.5 million for the reshoots while Williams received an $80 per diem totaling less than $1,000.  The fact both actors were represented by the William Morris Endeavor Agency (WME) added even greater fuel to the ensuing fire.  A social media storm erupted with many condemning the pay disparity between Williams and Wahlberg as yet another example of gender inequality in the workplace.  Just two days earlier, male and female stars (including Williams) had worn black to the Golden Globes as a showing of support for Time’s Up, an anti-harassment and gender equality initiative launched by Hollywood power players like Reece Witherspoon, Eva Longoria, Shonda Rhimes, Ashley Judd, Natalie Portman, and many more.

Mark Wahlberg responded to the film controversy by promising to donate $1.5 million in Williams’ honor to the Time’s Up initiative.  WME promised to donate an additional $500,000 to Time’s Up.  Williams released a statement saying, “If we truly envision an equal world, it takes equal effort and sacrifice.  Today is one of the most indelible days of my life because of Mark Wahlberg, WME, and a community of men and women who share in this accomplishment.  Anthony Rapp, for all the shoulders you stood on, now we stand on yours.”

However, the controversy has not ended there.  The Hollywood Reporter released a story that Williams reportedly was paid $625,000 for her work on All the Money in the World while Wahlberg took home $500 million, despite the fact they had nearly equal screen time in the film.  Renewed public outcry has called for transparency in pay discussions and equality in the workplace.  News outlets and social media are likely to bring us similarly high-profile stories raising pay disparity issues, and it seems that a growing number of actors have been emboldened to discuss pay and alleged inequalities.  Indeed, the National Labor Relations Board has repeatedly reiterated employees’ right to discuss pay, and an executive order issued by then-president Barack Obama extends a similar standard to federal contractors who are not covered by the NLRA.

While so many of these headlines involve Hollywood stars, employers in all industries should take note and embrace the opportunity to evaluate and continue to re-evaluate their own practices to ensure legal compliance and a healthy work environment for employees.  My colleague, Rachel E. Kelly wrote a great piece last week offering employer tips on the importance of transparency and establishing an appropriate workplace culture where qualified diverse candidates can thrive.  As Rhimes stated about the Time’s Up initiative, “It’s very hard for us to speak righteously about the rest of anything if we haven’t cleaned our own house.”  It seems that time is indeed up for those who put off necessary house cleaning.

 

No bluff: Wright demands equal pay on House of Cards

Kristin Starnes Gray

Actress Robin Wright, who plays the formidable Claire Underwood on House of Cards, is the latest in the entertainment world to speak out on equal pay. According to a recent interview, Wright demanded equal pay after statistics showed that her character was just as popular (if not more so) than that of her male costar, Kevin Spacey. In negotiating a pay raise to make her earnings equal to Spacey’s (who reportedly earns half a million per episode), Wright says she threatened “to go public.” Channeling her inner Claire, Wright came out on top. Playing Card-club Queen, isolated on white background with clipp

Wright has joined a growing number of women in the sports and entertainment world who have spoken out on pay inequality. We recently did a post on the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team’s demands for pay equal to their male counterparts. In addition, Patricia Arquette famously spoke about pay inequality at the Oscars in 2015. Jennifer Lawrence later spoke out about earning considerably less than her male costars in American Hustle because of the gender pay gap in Hollywood. Meryl Street sent letters to each member of Congress, accompanied by a copy of the book Equal Means Equal by Jessica Neuwirth, asking them to revive the long dormant Equal Rights Amendment.

To provide some legal background, the Equal Pay Act (EPA) is the federal law that prohibits discriminatory pay practices based on sex. More specifically, the EPA requires that men and women in the same workplace be given equal pay for equal (though not necessarily identical) work. An individual alleging a violation of the EPA may go directly to court and isn’t required to file an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charge beforehand.  The time limit for filing an EPA charge with the EEOC and initiating a lawsuit are the same: within two years of the alleged unlawful compensation practice or, in the case of a willful violation, within three years. The filing of an EEOC charge under the EPA doesn’t extend the time limit for initiating a lawsuit.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 also prohibits discrimination based on sex with regard to pay and benefits. In addition, states across the U.S. have passed or are considering their own versions of the Equal Pay Act making it unlawful for employers to discriminate in the payment of wages based on sex and other protected statuses. Many have taken aim at eliminating pay secrecy by making it unlawful for employers to prohibit employees from discussing their pay, which is already a big no-no under such laws as the National Labor Relations Act.

Wright may have summoned her inner Claire, but we can all be thankful that she didn’t resort to some of the Underwoods’ darker methods for resolving issues. If such wage negotiations were an episode of House of Cards, Claire (who has often been compared to Lady Macbeth) is not above ruthless political maneuvering and leaving a few bodies in her wake. In the meantime, we can all look forward to seeing what the Underwoods are up to in Season 5 of this Netflix hit.