Gov. Jerry Brown took the pay equity fight to another level on Tuesday by signing one of the toughest laws in the nation. The new law not only shrinks the wage gap between men and women in the state but extends its reach across titles and geographic locations within the same company.
Women in California currently average a median 84 cents for every dollar that men earn, according to a U.S Census Bureau report this year.
“The inequities that have plagued our state and have burdened women forever are slowly being resolved with this kind of bill,” Brown said at a ceremony at Rosie the Riveter National Historical Park in the Bay Area city of Richmond.
California and the federal government already have laws banning employers from paying women less than men for the same jobs. Courts have interpreted current law to mean that male and female workers must hold exactly the same jobs to require equal pay, said state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara), author of the legislation.
Now, the new California Fair Pay Act will give employees more grounds for challenging perceived wage discrimination based on gender. New language says employers cannot earn less than those of the opposite sex for “substantially similar work,” even if their titles are different or they work at different sites.
The Act also prohibits retaliation against employees who ask about or discuss wages paid to co-workers, and it clarifies their ability to claim retaliation. Employers sued by workers would have to show that wage differences are due to factors other than gender, such as merit or seniority; that they are job-related and reasonable.
The new law is the strongest in the country, according to the National Partnership for Women & Families, a Washington-based nonprofit advocacy group for workplace fairness.
Jennifer Reisch, legal director of the San Francisco group Equal Rights Advocates, said women, especially those of color and mothers, “continue to lose precious income to a pervasive, gender-based wage gap.”
Brown's signature on Jackson's bill “will make California’s equal pay law clearer, stronger and more effective,” she said.
The new rules take effect Jan. 1.
The law is supported by the California Chamber of Commerce and most state Republican lawmakers. National women’s rights leaders said the legislation was a model for other states and for Congress, where similar efforts have been stalled by Republican opposition.