The male star of the buzzy movie musical “La La Land,” which opens next week, is Ryan Gosling. The role was originally offered to Miles Teller, who was a rising hot property and star on the threshold for acing the role of the abused drummer in “Whiplash,” like “La La Land” directed by Damien Chazelle.
But according to the people familiar wit negotiations, Teller was insulted by money he was offered, a paltry $1 million, primarily because his putative co-star, Emma Stone,was being offered almost $3 million. After some back and forth, Chazelle replaced Teller with Gosling. Thus did Teller lose out on an a rare opportunity to make himself a major star in a film that is widely believed to be an Oscar magnet, and, of course, he won’t have that million dollars, either.
This a particularly vivid example of the ethics dilemma created by comparative salaries. I have not seen or heard of a satisfactory solution to it, from the management side or the labor side. Management would prefer that employees not know what other employees are making, and with good reason. The information can cause envy, bitterness, anger and lawsuits. Every employee has a tendency to believe they are more valuable, and indispensable, than they really are. Of course, some employers want to keep salaries secret because there are disparities that they cannot defend, or that may be illegal. While transparency is desirable to prevent unfair salary differences, however, it can make legitimate disparities untenable.
From the employee’s perspective, the same dilemma applies. I never wanted to know what my colleagues were making, as long as I felt my own compensation was fair. I knew that if I found out an employee that I regarded as a boob and a slacker was getting more than I was, it would demoralize me. Then there was the time I accidentally found out that a female employee with more seniority and who performed the same job I did but did it better was getting substantially less than I was.
This is one of the classic fairness problems. An employer should be able to pay different individuals different amounts for the same tasks when and if one is better than the other, faster, more efficient, a better problem-solver, with more initiative; if one is never sick, or more of a team player, more professional, more helpful and cooperative, popular with customers, or has more seniority, commitment to the company, and other factors. How is bias kept out of these calculations, though? How can any employee be sure that the reason a colleague is allegedly being paid more on the basis of performance evaluations and seniority isn’t really getting more because of his gender, or race, or sexual orientation, or political views, or because he’s providing sexual favors to the boss, or because she reminds the boss of his late sister, killed in a freak toboggan accident?
Isn’t the only guaranteed fair approach to salaries to have all similar jobs paid a uniform amount, so there are no disparities to discover? No. If someone provides more value, he or she deserves more compensation than another employee. Not paying that employee more isn’t fair, it is unfair….but what if the other employees finds out, and refuse to see why the disparity exists?
This appears to be what happened to Miles Teller. In no field are unique traits and assets more relevant to compensation than show business. At high levels, talent isn’t fungible. Though Teller won’t admit it, Emma Stone is a bigger star than he is, a bigger box office draw, and a more reliable asset to the film. Paying her more money isn’t bias (unless she was sleeping with a studio executive or blackmailing the director), whether Teller thinks he’s as good or better than she is or not. The ethics question he should have asked himself was, “Is a million bucks plus the opportunity to be the star of this cool movie with a director I’ve collaborated well with once before a fair exchange for the work I’ll be doing?”
The answer, Miles, is “Yes.” Actually it’s “Yes, you idiot.”
Esquire tells us that Teller’s response to the news that he was out of the picture was to send the director a text that read “What the fuck, bro?” This is in an article that explains that Teller “is kind of a dick.”
You see, that alone is a fair reason to pay someone less.
I hope Miles learns this.
Pointer and Facts: New York Times