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The Push for More Comprehensive Equal Pay Laws


Equal pay for equal work has long been a major employment concern. In Hollywood and Silicon Valley, in fact, there have been many high profile cases challenging gender pay equality in the last year. Then, the new year ushered in a law in California, the California Pay Act, which became effective on January 1, 2016. This new law has been touted as the toughest gender pay equity law on the books in the United States. However, the California Legislature believes it's not enough.

The introduction of a new bill in California

While the California Pay Act may be tough, it only applies to gender inequality, which leaves other minorities out in the cold. On February 16, 2016, a new bill was introduced, referred to as the "Wage Equality Act of 2016." This new bill seeks to extend the protections of the Fair Pay Act to race and ethnicity. Specifically, the bill would prohibit employers from paying employees a wage rate less than the rate paid to employees of a different race or ethnicity for substantially similar work. As the California Senator who introduced the bill has recognized, "one of the largest factors for wage inequity [is] race and ethnicity."

The reasoning behind the new bill

In support of the bill, California Senator Isadore Hall made the following statement in a press release:

A 2013 study by the American Association of University Women [which] revealed that Asian American women make 90 cents, African American women make 64 cents, and Hispanic or Latina women make just 54 cents for every dollar that a Caucasian man earns. The wage gap isn't only between men and women, as African American men earn just 75% of the average salary of a Caucasian male worker.

The new bill is also being sponsored by the California National Organization of Women ("NOW"). This particular group actually opposed the new Fair Pay Act because it did not include protections for wage discrimination for categories such as race, ethnicity, LGBTQ, and disability status, which are included in other anti-discrimination laws. Other states, including Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York, as well as the EEOC, are also pursuing similar action. The California bill could possibly be acted upon after March 18, 2016.

What protections are provided by federal law?

The Equal Pay Act (EPA) is a federal law that requires employers to pay men and women the same for performing the same work. In other words, employees are entitled to equal pay for equal work. The Equal Pay Act was passed in 1963 as an amendment to the Fair Labor Standards, with the primary purpose of remedying the wage disparity experienced overwhelmingly by women. Employees who suffer pay discrimination based on other protected characteristics, such as race and nationality are only protected under Title VII unless their state has additional protection on its books.

If you feel you have been the victim of discrimination, or if you have any questions regarding your employment rights, please contact the experienced employment attorneys at Michel | King , either online or by calling us at (205) 265-1880.

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