New Equal Pay Law in California May Be Nation's Strictest

New Equal Pay Law in California May Be Nation's Strictest

California's new Fair Pay Act, which awaits Gov. Jerry Brown's signature, may be the nation's most aggressive attempt yet to close the salary gap between men and women.

Supporters said the legislation, passed unanimously by the California Senate on Monday, closes loopholes that prevented enforcement of existing anti-discrimination law.

The bill ensures that male and female employees who perform "substantially similar" work receive equal pay, even if their job titles aren't the same or if they work in different offices for the same employer.

That means a hotel's female housekeepers could challenge higher wages paid to male janitors because they do similar work despite different job titles.

In addition, employees would be able to ask about and discuss co-workers' wages without fear of retaliation from employers.

"It's been a long march to try to get laws that are strong enough that would actually close the gender wage gap in this country," said Noreen Farrell, executive director of civil rights organization Equal Rights Advocates, which was a co-sponsor of the bill. "We have been envisioning what would be the strongest state law for equal pay in the nation for some time, and this is it.”

Aileen Rizo, a math consultant at the Fresno County Office of Education, discovered in 2012 that a male colleague was making $12,000 more a year for the same work even though he was hired four years after her. The Fresno resident, whose lawsuit is still pending, has traveled to the state Capitol at least half a dozen times to testify and advocate for the Fair Pay Act.

"We were just cheering and so happy," Rizo, 40, said of the legislation's approval Monday. "It's going to strengthen the tools that women have to fight against pay discrimination."

Brown aide Nancy McFadden tweeted last week that the governor "will sign CA Fair Pay Act when it reaches his desk.” Read more on CPA Practice Advisor.