California Equal Pay Law Draws Praise From Actress Patricia Arquette

By Dakota Smith Daily News, Los Angeles.

Ten months after actress Patricia Arquette used her Academy Award acceptance speech to call for equal pay for men and women, the "Boyhood" star joined state lawmakers to celebrate passage of a new California law targeting the wage gap.

Appearing with state politicians in North Hollywood, Arquette lauded the California Equal Pay Act, authored by Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara.

"Women drive the economy, making 89 percent of all purchasing decisions," Arquette said. "We make or break elections. We deserve better and so do our kids."

The actress in February urged equal pay for both sexes, a speech that prompted Sen. Jackson to push forward the new legislation.

The law, which goes into effect Friday, expands existing regulations barring employers from paying women less than men for the same job. Under the California Pay Act, employees must be paid the same for "substantially similar work," regardless of where they work within a company.

A female housekeeper who cleans rooms should receive the same amount given to a male janitor who cleans a lobby, if their tasks are the essentially the same, officials say. The new law also ensures that workers who do the same work must receive equal pay, regardless if one employee works at a different site.

Employers will have to prove wages are based on a seniority or merit system, rather than gender-based, according to the law. The legislation also increases transparency about wages so employers who seek information about their colleagues' pay don't face retaliation.

Women in California last year earned an average of 84 cents for every dollar earned by a man, lawmakers said. The gap is worse for women of color, with Latinas making 44 cents for every dollar a white male earns.

Jackson said the wage gap has "thrived in secrecy."

"We need to change to come not just from the bottom up, from employees," she said. "But from the top down. The challenge in 2016 for the employers in this state is to make equal pay a top priority."

Arquette said when she spoke out at the Academy Awards "it wasn't about acting so much, but it will have to be addressed, just like all these other things across the board."

A federal investigation was opened in October into gender discrimination in Hollywood, a probe that comes amid renewed attention over wage differences between female and male stars.

With the California Equal Pay Act, Hollywood will have to "make a radical readjustment, and they know that," Arquette told reporters. "They know for decades they've been paying unfairly."

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