California Fair Pay Act May Be the Nation’s Toughest

The California Fair Pay Act may be the most aggressive attempt yet in the country to close the salary gap between men and women. The legislation, which passed earlier this month, closes loopholes that prevented enforcement of existing anti-discrimination law.

The bill ensures male and female employees who do similar work receive equal pay, even if their job titles aren’t alike or if they work in different offices for the same employer. This means, for example, a female housekeeper at a hotel could protest higher wages paid to a male janitor because they do similar jobs despite having different titles. Furthermore, employees would be allowed to ask about co-workers’ wages without fear of retaliation from employers.

“It’s been a long march to try to get laws that are strong enough that would actually close the gender wage gap in this country,” said Noreen Farrell, executive director of Equal Rights Advocates, which was a co-sponsor of the bill. “We have been envisioning what would be the strongest state law for equal pay in the nation for some time, and this is it.”

In Total, Female Workers in California Earn Billions Less Than Males

State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson, the bill’s author, wrote that, in 2014, California women earned an average of 84 cents to every dollar men earned. The gap is even wider for minority women — Hispanic women in California make 44 cents for every dollar that white men make, the largest gap for Latinas in the nation. In total, female full-time workers in the Golden State earn about $33.6 billion less each year than male full-time workers.

The bill applies to the public and private sectors. The act removes the requirement that comparable employees be in the same establishment, which means a female worker could challenge the wages paid to a male employee working in the same position for the same employer, but at a different work site.

Law experts say these provisions, along with the anti-retaliation measures, make the bill the strongest equal pay act in the nation.

“What this bill does is it goes back to the concept of pay equity,” said Hina Shah, director of the Women’s Employment Rights Clinic at Golden Gate University School of Law. Shah said the bill eliminates barriers for people not only in the same jobs, but also those who are doing essentially the same work. The bill looks beyond just what the title is, she said.

Some Say Bill Should Be More Far-Reaching

Critics say the law doesn’t offer enough protections.

The National Organization for Women opposed the bill unless it was amended to include others who face discrimination, such as gays and lesbians, disabled people, and those who are excluded based on race or ethnicity.

The bill also doesn’t specify provisions for men of color, who also face equal pay disparities, according to the organization.

Kesluk, Silverstein & JacobLos Angeles employment lawyers