2020 has been, among other things, a year in which a spotlight has shone on the issue of inequality in a variety of areas. Those in California are no strangers to the issue of equality, especially in terms of pay, as it has been a hotbed issue for the last several years.
In California, the entertainment industry has been accused of some of the most egregious violations of pay inequality. Actors, writers, and production staff, typically women and minorities, have all become more vocal about their experiences being paid less than their white male counterparts for similar work.
The legal community is no exception. Law firms have been found to pay male partners more than their overworked female partners in the firms. Female lawyers fear speaking out just like anyone else because they are afraid of retaliation, even though they know retaliation for reporting pay inequity is illegal.
What Is The Law On Wage Equality In California?
The Golden State has had the Equal Pay Act for decades, but in 2015 the legislature passed the California Fair Pay Act, which strengthens the Equal Pay Act by replacing the idea of “equal work” with the concept of “substantially similar work when viewed as a composite of skill, effort, and responsibility.” This modification makes it easier for those in the entertainment industry, legal industry, or any other employee to bring and win a case against their employer.
As of a 2017 amendment to the Equal Pay Act, race, ethnicity, and gender are all protected categories. Employers may not pay employees in any of these classes differently than those outside of the protected classes for substantially similar work. The burden of proof to justify the difference in wages between employees falls on the employer.
What Are The Damages For Violating Equal Pay Laws?
Penalties and damages for violations of the Equal Pay Act and the California Fair Pay Act can add up quickly. At minimum, if an employer is found to be in violation, the employee can be awarded the difference in wages as well as interest, attorney’s fees, and all court costs. Employees may also be awarded civil penalties for themselves and any other similarly affected employees under the California Private Attorneys General Act of 2004. If the court determines that the employers’ violation was willful, they can choose to add additional penalties, up to and including criminal prosecution.
Managers and executives responsible for determining pay rates should be hyper-aware of their obligations under the Equal Pay Act. Failure to do so can result in both expensive fines and damaging publicity.