Soapbox

Why blow up a good deal on equal pay?

Gov. Jerry Brown stands to applaud female factory workers from World War II as he visits the Rosie the Riveter National Monument to sign an equal pay bill into law on Oct. 6, 2015.
Gov. Jerry Brown stands to applaud female factory workers from World War II as he visits the Rosie the Riveter National Monument to sign an equal pay bill into law on Oct. 6, 2015. Bay Area News Group/TNS

What’s wrong with gathering more data about employee salaries, especially in the fight for workplace pay equity?

Plenty, when the real motivation is to drive more workplace litigation.

 
Opinion

Less than two years ago, the California Legislative Women’s Caucus stood arm in arm with the California Chamber of Commerce, celebrating compromise legislation that modernized the state’s equal pay law and that was touted as the strongest such law in the nation.

But a new measure takes direct aim at the 2015 deal. Assembly Bill 1209, introduced by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, a San Diego Democrat, would put a thumb on the scale, making it easier for plaintiffs’ lawyers to file pay equity lawsuits.

The current law makes plain that the standard for equal wages is “substantially similar work,” not merely the job title or description. It also carefully allocates the litigation burdens between the employee and employer.

Initially, an employee must prove they were performing substantially similar work and was receiving unequal wages. Then the burden shifts to the employer to establish a legitimate factor for the wage disparity, such as education, experience, seniority, merit or geography, just to name a few. If the employer cannot show a legitimate reason for the wage gap, then it has violated the law.

AB 1209, however, requires many private employers and nonprofits to collect data on salaries of all well-paid white-collar employees. The statistics for each job title or classification must be analyzed and re-categorized according to whether the job duties are substantially similar. Thousands of businesses would deliver the data to the secretary of state, to be posted in public.

By using the smokescreen of transparency, the bill author and her plaintiffs’ attorneys allies aim to unravel the carefully structured compromise. In effect, the legislation would require employers to serve up reams of data that attorneys need to establish a case. What a gift!

Public display of the data adds insult to injury. Employers would be required to provide statistics on job duties, wages and gender, but without the factors such as experience and seniority that the law says are legitimate reasons for wage gaps. That’s propounding a half-truth – and a public relations windfall for plaintiffs’ attorneys.

Wage gaps based on gender or other illegitimate reasons are wrong, which is why it’s been outlawed in California since 1949. AB 1209 would reverse the notable progress the Legislature achieved in 2015, and should be rejected by the state Senate.

Jennifer Barrera is senior policy advocate for the California Chamber of Commerce and can be contacted at jennifer.barrera@calchamber.com. Kara Bush is director of state government affairs for the Computing Technology Industry Association and can be contacted at kbush@comtia.org.

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