California Has Passed the Nation's Most Progressive Equal Pay Law


On Tuesday, October 6, California Governor Jerry Brown signed the California Fair Pay Act into law. The bill includes some of the strongest equal pay protection for women in the country.

The law mandates equal pay for “substantially similar work,” as well as giving workers the right to compare salaries with co-workers without fear of employer retaliation. “I don’t think this is going to solve all of our problems but I think this is definitely monumental,” the bill’s co-author, assembly member Cristina Garcia, told the Guardian.

The phrase “substantially similar work” is a meaningful one. It means that workers don’t have to have the exact same set of duties to demand equal pay, rather they need to hold equal value at a company. The bill also allows workers to compare their wages to people performing similar jobs at different work sites, not just within their own company. In addition, it allows workers to evaluate equality claims based on work performed and not just job title. Basically, the law gives women in the workplace a broader framework from which to draw wage comparisons.

“It will mean, for instance, that the female housekeepers that clean rooms in a hotel could legally challenge the higher wages paid to their male janitor counterparts who clean the lobby,” Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson, the bill’s co-author, said.

Considerations like job seniority and merit pay are still allowable under the bill, though the onus is on the employer to prove that gender is not a motivating factor.

The bill will undoubtedly have a major economic impact on California’s women. The Guardian reports:

“Across the United States, women make on average 78% of what male counterparts make. California women fare better, bringing home on average 84% of men’s pay, according to a 2014 report from the American Association of University Women, but the gap increases for women of color and mothers.
‘African American women average 64 cents for the dollar every man makes and Latinas get 44 cents for every dollar a man makes here in California’ said Jackson, pointing out many of these women represented low-wage workers who were also single mothers.”

Detractors of the law, however, worry that the bill will have a dampening effect on business growth in the state. “It is going to lead to lots more litigation, which further weakens the business climate in California,” labor lawyer J. Al Latham Jr. told the LA Times.

The law goes into effect on January 1.

Image via AP.

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