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January 22, 2002
Shying Away From Salary Comparisons
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When some in the tech field visit their favorite Web sites to ask how much to charge for their services, they may find themselves in for a surprise, the Washington Post reports.

Popular electronic mailing lists sponsored by groups such as the HTML Writers Guild and the DC Web Women bar their members from exchanging information about salaries or pricing for contract jobs.

According to the Post, these groups worry that condoning the activity will put them in legal trouble, if employers or federal regulators claim they are helping members violate antitrust laws by fixing prices for technical work.

Among those strongly condemning salaary talk is the HTML Writers Guild, a seven-year-old group that counts more than 120,000 Web designers, graphic artists, and other professionals in its ranks.

Janiré Hopkins, a member of the DC Web Women steering committee, said the subject is a touchy one. Some people, she said, charge more for their work based on skills and experience they possess a fact that too easily can be lost in the quick back-and-forth of an e-mail exchange.

Concern about being on the wrong end of the law also plays a part in her group's ban.

"In an effort to avoid the appearance of impropriety, we steer clear from it," Hopkins said.

Legal experts told the Post it can be difficult to draw the line between acceptable talk about wages and discussions that raise red flags.

Exchanging a little information "is probably okay," said William Baer, an antitrust lawyer at Arnold & Porter. But people who compete over price and salary are not allowed to come to an agreement over what to charge or related issues, Baer said.

In the past, courts have prohibited a group of D.C. lawyers from coming together to decide how much they should charge per hour and cracked down on Ivy League schools that met to discuss a cap on financial aid for students.

At the same time, judges have allowed thousands of music copyright holders to create an organization that makes it easier to license their songs to restaurants and building managers.

"It becomes a question of, is this a joint venture that makes a new product and creates efficiencies, or are they really just trying to get together and set a floor?" said Debra Valentine, a lawyer at O'Melveny & Myers and former general counsel at the Federal Trade Commission.


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