The chairman of the divided Montgomery County Compensation Task Force told the County Council yesterday at a hearing on the issue of comparable worth that sex discrimination is not responsible for discrepancies in salaries paid by the county for jobs held largely by men and those held predominantly by women.
"We have no evidence of discrimination," task force Chairman Coleman Rafael said. "We have not found anything to prove that discrimination exists. It may be out there, but we haven't found it."
While a minority appendix to the task force's report noted a 16 percent difference between salaries paid men and women by the county, Rafael said yesterday that some women earn less because they choose to pursue traditional female-dominated occupations and prefer to take time off to raise families, resulting in less job experience.
But another task force member, lawyer Winn Newman, disagreed with the chairman, saying the county could be violating the federal Civil Rights and Equal Pay acts if it does not move to eliminate gender-based disparities in salaries. He said a study of county salaries would be a step in the right direction.
"There's enough evidence in Montgomery County to show there is a disparity that needs looking at, to see whether all or part of the disparity is a result of discrimination," Newman said. "And hopefully the county will work to correct it."
The task force, created by the County Council in 1983 to look at a variety of wage issues, voted 4 to 3 last month to reject the concept of a comparable worth pay system to adjust the discrepancies in salaries at county agencies and colleges.
The task force majority urged the council to set salaries instead on the basis of the competitive market value of the jobs, and said further examination of the issue of comparable worth would be unnecessary.
Comparable worth proposals have been promoted by women's groups across the country as a means of narrowing the wage gap between men and women -- found by the U.S. Census Bureau in 1981 to average $10,000 nationwide -- by providing "equal pay for work of comparable value."
Opponents argue that it is impossible to fairly assess the value of individual jobs.
The seven-hour hearing yesterday was devoted to testimony from task force members. Several representatives of local unions and women's groups, angered by the task force recommendations, came prepared to speak, but most left when they learned there would be no public discussion.
Task force member Charles Betsey, who read the majority opinion, said he opposed the idea of a study because it will not deal with the problem of sex discrimination. Betsey said he believes there is discrimination in the work place but that it is impossible to measure.
Some council members said after the hearing that they were split on the idea of a study. Rose Crenca said she supports the idea "because there's too many loose ends and unanswered questions."
But Neal Potter said he agreed with the majority of the task force.
"If someone can indicate that discrimination exists, then we should look at it, but not do an abstract study when we should deal with specific cases as they arise," Potter said.
Council President Michael Gudis said he is undecided because the council has not determined what a study would entail, and, he said, it could cost "hundreds of thousands of dollars."
The issue has been referred to the council's personnel committee.