Last October, the California Senate unanimously passed the California Fair Pay Bill – one of the most protective equal pay laws in the country. While this was a giant leap in protecting women facing wage discrimination in California, a recent proposal from a state lawmaker wants to expand the law even further to protect employees from racial discrimination.

California State Senator Proposing Equal Pay Regardless of Race

The proposed addition to the California Fair Pay Law (which provides more employee protections than the federal Equal Pay Act) would build on the existing law by adding “race or ethnicity” to the requirement that employers justify any pay discrepancies between men and women who do “substantially similar” work.

California’s current fair pay law also allows employees to discuss compensation and challenge workplace gender pay gaps. The proposed law’s additions would also permit employees to challenge potentially racially-charged pay gaps.

California Would be First to Force Employers to Disprove Underpayment of Workers Based on Race

The proposed law would take California into uncharted legal territory, as no other state or federal employment law forces employers to prove they’re not paying workers less based on protected characteristics other than gender.

“No one should be paid less than what they’re worth and no one should be discriminated against because of the hue of their skin or their gender,” stated Sen. Hall.

The proposal comes with mixed emotions from leading voices on equal pay, as some feel it may not be wise to ask for too much too soon. Racial discrimination was actually strategically left out of the California Fair Pay Act to ensure passage of the law.

Even though studies point to continual pay discrimination due to gender, data shows a racial pay gap includes many underlying variables that could obscure the true disparity.

Jennifer Reisch, legal director at Equal Rights Advocates, an organization that aided in the draft of California’s 2015 fair pay law says, “There is plenty of evidence to show women of color are facing lower pay for many reasons and one of those reasons is the combination of race and gender, but a lot of it is explained by other factors as well.”

60 percent of California workers who make minimum wage or less, are women. And according to the federal labor statistics by the National Women’s Law Center, most of these women are not white.

NWLC’s study of U.S. Census Bureau surveys showed that in 2014, Latinas working in California made just 43 cents to every dollar compared to their non-Hispanic white male counterparts. Native American women made 50 cents, black women made 63 cents and Asian American women made 72 cents.

Once the California Fair Pay Act was passed in 2015, large California tech companies like Intel, Apple and Salesforce conducted their own internal audits to identify pay gaps. Salesforce found gender pay discrepancies between men and women totaled nearly $3 million. The company also raised pay for over 1000 workers.

The proposal is set to be heard for the first time on Wednesday, April 13.

Article adapted from “California protects pay by gender, is race next?” by Alison Noon

If you feel you are a victim or sex and gender discrimination or race discrimination at work, our California employment attorneys are here to help. Contact us today for a free consultation.