Shameless will return to Showtime for an eighth season, after a public pay dispute between star Emmy Rossum and the production company, Warner Bros. Television, has been resolved. Rossum, who stars in the dark comedy as Fiona, the resilient oldest sibling of the hard-luck Gallagher clan, reportedly asked to be paid more than her costar William H. Macy to make up for a years-long salary disparity. Macy plays the Gallaghers’ alcoholic father and enjoys top billing on the show even though he typically gets less screen time than Rossum. According to the Hollywood Reporter, which broke the news of the negotiations last week, Rossum took “the position she should be paid more per episode than Macy makes after years of earning much less than her Emmy-nominated co-star.”
Macy threw his weight behind Rossum earlier this week, telling TMZ, “She works as hard as I do, she deserves everything.” And on Wednesday, Rossum tweeted that she would continue her role on Shameless and go “back to work in May.” According to the Hollywood Reporter, “Sources say Rossum had an offer of equal pay on the table. It’s unclear if she received more than Macy.”
Rossum’s apparent victory so quickly after her fight for equal pay was publicized is a tribute to the power of public shaming to get companies to do the right thing. Not every underpaid woman is in a position to use publicity to pressure her employer to act similarly, however. In fact, many non-famous women fear retaliation or difficulty finding new work if they blow the whistle on unequal pay. But as an actress playing a beloved character on Shameless, Rossum has unique leverage—she is literally irreplaceable as Fiona.
A wealthy actress negotiating an even higher salary for herself doesn’t look like a win for the working woman, but it’s a reminder that companies know that it’s a bad look when they pay women less than men for the same work. Smart executives—like the producers of House of Cards, who granted Robin Wright equal pay before she went public—preemptively even out their pay structures to avoid negative PR. Warner Bros. Television’s bad publicity over Shameless might make other executives think twice about denying women equal pay in the first place.