California women who work for the government gained new protections against wage discrimination under a bill Gov. Jerry Brown signed on Saturday.
The law, Assembly Bill 46, allows female public employees to pursue wage discrimination claims in court or through the state’s Division of Labor Standards Enforcement.
Previously, only private-sector employees were allowed to press those claims under the California Equal Pay Act.
Assemblyman Jim Cooper, D-Elk Grove, submitted the bill after The Sacramento Bee in 2015 reported that female employees in the Legislature earned 92 cents on the dollar compared to men. The state Senate in February gave raises to 71 employees to address wage disparities there.
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“I authored AB 46 because not only am I the father of four women of color, but also because I believe it is important to lead by example and ensure that our pay equity laws apply to all sectors, both private and public,” Cooper said.
The Bee last year also reported that women in the broader state workforce earn about 79.5 cents on the dollar compared to men. That’s greater than the 16 percent gender wage gap in the state’s private sector workforce, and greater than the 12 percent wage gap in the federal workforce.
California government agencies tend to set pay by merit and seniority. The wage disparities in the overall state workforce tend to reflect the fact that men make up the majority of employees in higher-paying public safety and engineering positions.
Cooper’s bill could lead to pay adjustments for women in executive assignments across state government, according to legislative analysts. Pay for those assignments can be more flexible than the merit- and seniority-based salaries that rank-and-file public employees earn.
“The bill could result in increased labor costs for the state over what they would have been its absence (especially with respect to the salaries of agency secretaries and department directors). The magnitude of the impact is unknown,” said a report from the Senate Appropriations Committee.