From high profile cases in Hollywood to the Silicon Valley, to high-profile legislation, gender pay equity has been top of the news in the past year.  On January 1, 2016, the California Fair Pay Act – widely publicized as the toughest (gender) pay equity law in the nation — became effective.  Other states (MassachusettsNew JerseyNew York) and even the EEOC have since pursued similar action, through various means.  Just as companies are struggling to get a handle on the new gender pay equity requirements, the California Legislature (not unexpectedly) is looking to expand the law further.

Just two days ago, on February 16, 2016, California Senator Isadore Hall (D-South Bay) introduced Senate Bill 1063, dubbed the “Wage Equality Act of 2016”, which seeks to extend last year’s Fair Pay Act amendments virtually verbatim to Labor Code section 1197.5 to race and ethnicity. As such, SB 1063 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.

The Fair Pay Act was billed as the  toughest equal pay law in the U.S. — but it only addressed gender.  Senator Hall noted that despite last year’s legislation, “the 65 year old California Equal Pay Act fails to include one of the largest factors for wage inequity — race and ethnicity.”  The Wage Equality Act of 2016 is again being touted as creating (an even stronger) strongest wage equality law in the nation.

In support of the bill, Senator Hall press release cites 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 bill’s sponsor is the California National Organization of Women (“NOW”) — a group that opposed last year’s Fair Pay Act because it did not include protections for wage discrimination for categories such as race, ethnicity, LGBTQ, and disability status, that are protected under other anti-discrimination laws.  Since the California Equal Pay Act places a different of burden of proof on employers, CA NOW thought it wrong to deny certain employees full protections under the new legislation.

The bill may be acted upon after March 18, 2016.