The California Equal Pay Act: A Historical Perspective

california equal pay act

The California Equal Pay Act was enacted in 1949 to prevent employers from paying employees of the opposite sex less for equal work. The law was originally intended to stop the common practice of employers paying men more than women for the same work. However, there were many loopholes that made it difficult for employees to file a claim. In 2016, The Fair Pay Act was enacted in order to close some of those loopholes.

Closing Loopholes with the Fair Pay Act

The California Fair Pay Act made it unlawful to pay an employee of a different sex less for “substantially similar work when viewed as a composite of skill, effort, and responsibility.” That means that when it comes to compensation, the type of work an employee performs is more important than the title given to an employee. Employees must be compensated equally for jobs that are performed under similar conditions and that require the same level of skill, effort, and responsibility.

Expanding Equal Pay to Race and Ethnicity

The California Fair Pay Act was later amended to include both race and ethnicity. The amendment also made it illegal for an employer to use an employee’s previous salary as a justification for pay differences. However, there are four exemptions that an employer can use as a defense to pay differences:

  • seniority;
  • merit;
  • a system that measures production; and/or
  • a bona fide factor other than sex, race, or ethnicity such as education, training, or experience.

Protecting Employee Rights

It is important to remember that it is unlawful for an employer to attempt to stop employees from discussing pay. It is also unlawful for an employer to retaliate against an employee who brings a complaint under the Equal Pay Act. For transparency, private employers with 100 or more employees must annually report pay, demographic, and other workforce data to the state.

Consequences for Violations in California

If an employer is found to be in violation of the Equal Pay Act, an employee can recover the difference in wages, interest, equal amount as liquidated damages, and attorney’s fees.

If you believe your employer has violated the protections offered to you under The California Equal Pay Act, contact us. At TONG LAW, our experienced employment attorneys are here to help employees enforce their rights.

Author Bio

Vincent Tong

Vincent Tong is the CEO and Managing Partner of TONG LAW, a business and employment law firm located in Oakland, CA. Vincent is a fierce advocate for employees facing discrimination and wrongful termination. With several successful jury trial victories and favorable settlements, he has earned a strong reputation for delivering exceptional results for his clients.

In addition, Vincent provides invaluable counsel to businesses, guiding them on critical matters such as formation and governance, regulatory compliance, and protection of intellectual property assets. His depth of experience allows him to anticipate risks, devise strategies to avoid legal pitfalls, and empower clients to pursue their goals confidently.

Vincent currently serves as the 2021 President of the Board of Directors for the Alameda County Bar Association and sits on the Executive Board for the California Employment Lawyers Association. Recognized for outstanding skills and client dedication, he has consecutively earned the Super Lawyers’ Rising Star honor since 2015, reserved for the top 2.5% of attorneys. He also received the Distinguished Service Award for New Attorney from the Alameda County Bar Association in 2016. He is licensed to practice before all California state courts and the United States District Court for the Northern and Central Districts of California.

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