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California Addressing the Disparity in Earnings Between Men and Women

January 2016 marked California’s latest attempt at addressing the wage gap that exists between the sexes. The California Fair Pay Act will strengthen the state’s existing equal pay laws by eliminating loopholes that prevent effective enforcement and by empowering employees to discuss their pay without fear of retaliation. The Act covers both private businesses and government agencies

According to the California Employment Lawyers Association (CELA), in 2013, a woman in California working full-time, year-round, earned a median of 84 cents for every dollar earned by a man. Also, African American and Latina women working full-time, year-round in California make a median of just 64 cents and 44 cents, respectively, for every dollar earned by white men. California has the worst Latina gender wage gap in the nation.

The Equal Pay Act covers "equal pay for equal work" and applies only to sex-based discrimination. The Fair Pay Act expands these protections in two ways: It prohibits pay discrimination on the basis of race and national origin, as well as sex. Additionally, it prohibits such discrimination among workers performing dissimilar work in equivalent jobs. Equivalent jobs is defined as those whose composite of skill, effort, responsibility, and working conditions are equivalent in value, even if the jobs themselves are not the same.

The law includes strongly worded anti-retaliation provisions that protect workers who raise or assist, in any manner, the enforcement of the law, including engaging in discussions among co-workers about wages that they and others are earning. The Act provides that an employer has the burden to demonstrate that any wage differential is based on a seniority system, a merit system, quantity or quality of production or another bona fide factor other than sex. These factors must account for the entire wage differential, not just for part.

In addition to allowing class action lawsuits to be filed and providing for compensatory and punitive damages, the Equal Pay Act requires some employers to disclose to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission general job classifications and their pay statistics. Importantly, it also prohibits an employer from lowering any employee’s wage rate in order to implement fair pay.

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