Governor Brown Signs Nation’s Strongest Pay Equity Bill into Law

In a significant step forward for fair pay in California and across the country, today Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law the California Fair Pay Act. The new law will give the state the strongest equal pay law in the nation, and help a close a gender wage gap costing households in California more than 39 billion dollars each year.

Carried by Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara), the bill passed the California Senate unanimously and earned bipartisan endorsement and support from the California Chamber of Commerce. Brown went so far as to announce his intention to sign the bill before the Legislature held its final vote.

Equal Rights Advocates, a national gender justice advocacy organization based in San Francisco, was co-sponsor of the Act, along with the California Employment Lawyers Association and the Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center (LAS-ELC).  Support for the bill was buoyed by advocate partners, including the American Association of University Women and other members of the Stronger California Advocates Network, a coalition of dozens of organizations advocating for policy initiatives to improve the economic security of women and families.

“The win here is undeniable. We think of 2015 as the year of fair pay,” said ERA Executive Director Noreen Farrell. “With the strong support for fair pay bills in the California legislature, a business community willing to prioritize pay equity for women, and calls for fair pay from the Oscars stage to the United Nations, it seems the tides are shifting toward closing the gender wage gap.” 

“This law new law requires employers to do more to justify unequal pay practices, and it strengthens protections for low-wage workers who fear retaliation if they question unfair pay practices,” said staff attorney Rachael Langston with LAS-ELC.

The new law will strengthen the state’s existing equal pay law by eliminating loopholes that prevent effective enforcement and empowering employees to discuss pay without fear of retaliation. It will also enable women to challenge unequal pay when their jobs are “substantially similar” to that of a man who earns more than them. For example, a woman housekeeper could challenge a policy of paying janitors more, since their work is of a similar nature.

Academy Award winner Patricia Arquette, who called for wage equality as she received her Oscar for the film Boyhood this year, today hailed the signing of the California Fair Pay Act:

“The California Fair Pay Act received bipartisan support because women support families and drive our economy. They also have tremendous political power,” Arquette said.  “I thank Governor Brown, Senator Hannah Beth Jackson, Equal Rights Advocates, and everyone who ensured the passage of this bill. It is a critical step toward ensuring that women in California are seen and valued as equals.”

Nearly 1,751,000 family households in California are headed by women, but there is a sizeable difference between the earnings of male breadwinners and female breadwinners. Women in California are paid, on average, 84 cents for every dollar paid to men. Women of color are most harmed by wage disparities: Latinas and African American women working full-time in California make on average just 44 cents and 64 cents, respectively, to every dollar earned by white men.

“This is a momentous day for California, and it is long overdue. Equal pay isn’t just the right thing for women, it’s the right thing for our economy and for California. Families rely on women’s income more than ever before. Because of the wage gap, our state and families are missing out on $33.6 billion dollars a year, “ said Senator Jackson. “That’s money could be flowing into families’ pocketbooks, into our businesses and our economy. After years of dealing with a persistent wage gap, and an equal pay law that has been on the books since 1949 but that is not as strong as it should be, the time is now for women’s paychecks to finally reflect their hard work and true value.”

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