California legislator proposes addition to Equal Pay Act SB 358

Leaders in the California assembly announced this month the introduction of SB 1063, entitled the Wage Equality Act of 2016. SB 1063 would augment the recently passed SB 358, (Equal Pay Act) and 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. If SB 1063 passes, and is signed into law, it will create the toughest race-based wage equality law in the nation.

Despite being a state with the most diverse and prosperous population in the nation, many Californians continue to be harmed by the chronic racial and ethnic wage gap. The Equal Pay Gap addressed the statistics that show that women in this country working full-time earn only about 78 percent of their male counterparts' wages. But this bill aims to target an even wider gap, that of race. For African-American and Latina women, the gender pay gap is even greater than their male counterparts, as studies show African-American women reportedly earning 64 cents on the dollar, and Latina women earning 56 cents for every dollar earned by a non-Hispanic Caucasian male. Taking into account valid reasons for disparity, such as an individual's skillset, actual tasks performed, education and experience, or other qualifications, the research still shows that there remains a significant pay gap. There is also good evidence that discrimination is a large factor in the lingering pay disparity between men and women. With American women comprising about fifty percent of the workforce, one must conclude that pay discrimination is a real and persistent problem that continues to shortchange working women and their families.

In 2015, SB 358 began to address wage inequality by prohibiting employers from paying employees a wage rate less than the rates paid to employees of the opposite sex for substantially similar work. That however, still left gaps in the law that continue to persist. The Federal Equal Pay Act, passed over 65 years ago by then President John F Kennedy, failed to include one of the largest factors for wage inequity – race and ethnicity.

As California continues its rapid growth, it will continue to diversify, and larger segments of our state's population will be represented by minorities. In the absence of a solution to the race-based pay inequities many still suffer, they are facing devastating economic inequality. No one --- regardless of their race --- should be denied an equal wage for an equal day's work. This bill, SB 1063, will build upon the important steps California took in passing the Equal Pay Act of 2016, as it continues to take steps to end wage inequality, and set a higher bar nationally to ensure that every worker is paid a fair and equitable wage.

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