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Bills addressing pay equity progress through California legislature

June 10th, 2015  |  Deborah Hammonds

There’s been a lot of conversation about pay inequity lately. Who knows exactly why? Is it real concern or a sly way of highlighting the two female candidates in next year’s presidential election? Is it just the latest “hot topic” for a media looking to fill a few minutes of a 24-hour news cycle? Whatever the reason, the issue appears to be taking off and while inequity can be based on an individual’s race, ethnicity or age, most people think of gender when talking about pay equity.  And gender pay inequity is not a new issue. Various federal and state laws have existed for years as a means to prohibit and rectify pay discrimination on the basis of gender. Despite this, differences seem to remain.

While the Paycheck Fairness Act keeps bouncing around Washington D.C., some states have decided to tackle the issue themselves. In California, legislators are considering a bill which, according to its sponsors, would help eliminate gender-based pay inequity. Just last week, A.B. 1017, which would bar employers from asking job applicants about their salary history and from releasing the salary history of current and former employees, was referred to the state’s senate Committee on Labor and Industrial Relations.

According to the bill’s sponsor, Assembly Member Nora Campos, A.B. 1017 will:

  • address pay inequity in two key ways so that women have more bargaining power when negotiating their salaries.
  • address women’s pay inequity in the public sector by prohibiting employers from seeking job candidates’ salary histories.
  • remove past salary history from the hiring determination, which will help ensure that employers will not be able to use a history of low pay as justification for continuing to underpay women.

Campos introduced the measure on February 26, along with co-sponsors Christina Garcia and Lorena Gonzalez. Violations of AB 1017’s prohibitions would be misdemeanor crimes.

Eliminating gender-based pay inequity. According to a legislative analysis, the bill is sponsored by the California Employment Lawyers Association and the American Association of University Women. They have argued that the sluggish progress of efforts to eliminate gender-based pay inequality is due, at least in part, to employers having been permitted to preserve historical inequities. Because changing jobs is often the best chance women have to increase their pay, lawmakers should make sure they are not penalized by prior salaries that may well have been discriminatory, according to the bill’s sponsors. Policies pegging current salary to prior pay by default ignore the reality that the prior salary earned by a male job applicant may be the product of sex discrimination, or may reflect the residual effects of the traditionally enhanced value attached to work usually performed by men.

Opposition. A coalition of employers, including the California Chamber of Commerce, opposes the measure. They assert that despite the assumption that employers have accurate wage information on what the current market is for all potential job positions, they often do not. By requesting salary information, employers are able to adjust any unrealistic expectations or salary ranges to match the current market rate for the advertised position. This has worked to the benefit of the applicant or employee, according to opponents. Moreover, current protections exist in law to address pay disparity—this bill would merely create additional avenues of litigation, opponents say.

California Fair Pay Act. Campos is a member of the California Legislative Women’s Caucus, which introduced the California Fair Pay Act – Senate Bill 358 – earlier this year. According to the caucus, SB 358 will California’s equal pay laws to ensure that women are paid equally for work that is comparable to their male colleagues and do not face retaliation if they discuss or ask about pay at work.  SB 358 is currently before the senate Appropriations Committee.