Vermont Attorney General Finds Women Pay More For Goods And Services

Jul 1, 2016

The Vermont Attorney General’s office and state Human Rights Commission have issued a report offering guidance on gender-based pricing. The study by the agencies finds that women often pay more for products and services than men.

The report immediately notes that gender-based pricing is occurring in services such as car purchases and repairs, mortgages, even getting a haircut.  Many goods marketed to women, although equivalent to that of men, cost more.  The Attorney General shows comparable razor blades for men at $4.99, yet the women’s package costs $6.99.

And it’s not just adult products.  They cite a 2015 study from the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs showing a red Radio Flyer scooter costing $24.99.  The same design scooter in pink marketed to girls cost $49.99.

Vermont Attorney General Bill Sorrell:  “42 percent of the goods and services surveyed that women were paying more than men.”

The agencies are hoping to get voluntary changes from businesses and awareness among consumers regarding the price differences.  Vermont Human Rights Commission Executive Director Karen Richards:  “We’re 50 years out from the Equal Pay Act being adopted by Congress, and here in Vermont we’re at 84 cents for every dollar.  Nationally it’s still at 74 cents for every dollar earned by a man.  Because women are making lower wages and then getting hit with this price differential on purchase of goods it’s sort of a double whammy for women. And so whether this solves this problem or not I don’t know.  But at least it raises awareness so that women can shop differently potentially.”

Gender-based pricing violates Vermont’s Public Accommodations Act and the state’s Consumer Protection Act.  
Vermont Assistant Attorney General Consumer Protection Division Shannon Salembier was one of the researchers. She says they found gender-pricing is pervasive but she doesn’t believe most is intentional.  “Gender based pricing is something that is really ingrained in us.  It’s something that we’ve always lived with and we might not notice. And it isn’t until someone maybe points it out to you that you say ‘Oh yeah, that’s wrong.’  And just since we’ve issued the guidance a lot of businesses have been coming forward and saying oh wow, I didn’t even realize I was engaging in this practice and I’m going to go ahead and change the way I price my service or products.”

Salambier says by issuing the Guidance they hope to change mindsets and not resort to legal enforcement.  “It’s a first step.  This is something that a lot of people aren’t aware of.  Our initial goal is to create awareness and hopefully stop the problem without enforcement.  Try to get businesses to voluntarily comply.  However that doesn’t mean we won’t enforce this. We have to.  If we see egregious examples of this in the future we’ll certainly enforce if that what we need to do to get businesses to comply.  But this guidance is an initial step and we would prefer to tackle this problem via voluntary compliance.”

Consumers should direct complaints to the Human Rights Commission, which will work jointly with the Attorney General’s office.
Audio of Attorney General Bill Sorrell is courtesy of WCAX television.