Brown Okays Lawyer Full Employment Bill

Equal Pay for Women Law in Effect January 1

Women in California who work full time are paid substantially less — a median 84 cents for every dollar — than men, according to a U.S Census Bureau report this year. Governor Jerry Brown signed the California Fair Pay Act, October 6th, which includes a fuzzy legal standard for equal pay, which has labor lawyers in the state licking their chops.

The governor called the measure, which will give employees more grounds for challenging perceived discrimination, “a very important milestone.” Businesses said they expected more lawsuits once the new rules take effect Jan. 1.

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 they’re going to have to value the work equally,” she said after the bill signing ceremony.

What does ‘substantially similar’ mean

California and the federal government already have laws banning employers from paying women less than men for the same jobs. The new California Fair Pay Act broadens that prohibition by saying bosses cannot pay employees less than those of the opposite sex for “substantially similar work,” even if their titles are different or they work at different sites.

The new law also prohibits retaliation against employees who ask about or discuss wages paid to co-workers, and it clarifies their ability to claim retaliation.

On the employer side, those sued by workers would have to show that wage differences are due to factors other than sex, such as merit or seniority; that they are job-related and reasonable; and that they are not due to discrimination.

More Work for Lawyers

The new law will mean more employees taking more bosses to court, said J. Al Latham Jr., a labor law attorney and lecturer at the USC Gould School of Law, in a story in the L. A. Times.
“It is going to lead to lots more litigation, which further weakens the business climate in California,” he said.

Geoff DeBoskey, another labor lawyer, agreed, saying it was significant to change from requiring equal pay for equal work to mandating equal pay for “substantially similar work,” and that would drive some businesses out of California.

Employers will “move operations and grow elsewhere,” said DeBoskey, whose clients include Fortune 500 companies. “If an employer is going to build a new call center, they are just not going to build that in California.”

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.

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