Taxes

Now It Makes Even Less Sense That Michael Scott Was Wearing a Woman's Suit

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This is a week or two old, but I don't think anyone has mentioned it here yet: The New York Times reports that several companies are challenging U.S. tariffs on imported clothing, arguing that they constitute illegal sex discrimination. For obscure reasons, similar articles of clothing are taxed at different rates when they're sold to men than when they're sold to women. Sometimes men come out ahead, and sometimes women do. Either way, the clothing manufacturers argue, such unequal treatment cannot stand:

After years of poring over dusty tariff lists, international trade court records and congressional testimony, lawyers have found nothing that explains why, say, the tariff on an imported wool suit is 8.5 percent for a woman and zero for a man.

"It's irrational," said Peter Bragdon, the general counsel at Columbia Sportswear, one of the companies suing the government.

Columbia Sportswear imports a rugged hiking boot from China called the Diamond Peak. The men's and women's boots are virtually identical. But the tariff on the women's version is 1.5 percent higher than the men's (10 percent, compared with 8.5 percent).

"I think any first-year law student would have the same gut reaction we did—wait, you cannot do that," Bragdon said….

[Another lawyer said he] found the differences "offensive" and likened them to a federal sales tax based on gender. "Who would stand for that? If you were to buy a shirt and it was 5 percent more only because you are a man or a woman you would be outraged—and people should be equally outraged at what is happening with tariffs."

His lawsuit, filed on behalf of Totes-Isotoner, the glove maker, asserts that different tariff rates for similar men's and women's clothing violate the Constitution's guarantee of due process and equal protection. (The tariff on seamed leather gloves, a top seller for Totes-Isotoner, is 14 percent for men's and 12.6 percent for women's.)

Unlike some other challenges to sex-based pricing, this is one I can get behind. But as the Times notes, there's a "slim" chance the government will resolve the differences by raising the lower tariffs rather than reducing the higher ones.