California’s Equal Pay Act — An Introduction

This post provides basic information about California’s Equal Pay Act, which is found in Labor Code sections 1197.5 and 432. The Equal Pay Act (or “EPA”) prohibits employers from paying employees less than employees of the opposite sex for equal work. As January 1, 2017, it also prohibits an employer from paying its employees less than employees of another race, or of another ethnicity, for substantially similar work.icon-wage

Basic Provisions of California’s EPA

In 2015, California’s Fair Pay Act amended and strengthened the Equal Pay Act and underscored California’s commitment to achieving gender pay equity by doing the following, among other things:

  • Requiring equal pay for employees who perform “substantially similar work.”
  • Eliminating the requirement that any employees being compared work at the “same establishment.”
  • Making it more difficult for employers to justify unequal pay.
  • Clarifying that it is illegal for an employer to retaliate against employees who seek to enforce the EPA.
  • Making it illegal to prohibit employees from discussing or asking about their co-workers’ wages.

These provisions were effective as of January 1, 2016.

Recent Amendments to California’s EPA

Recent years have brought additional protections to California workers.

For example, as of January 1, 2017, California law prohibits an employer from paying its employees less than employees of another race, or of another ethnicity, for substantially similar work. In addition, California law prohibits employers from using prior salaries to justify any sex-, race-, or ethnicity-based pay difference.

Critically, as of January 1, 2018, the Equal Pay Act covers public employers. Additionally, Labor Code section 432.3 prohibits employers from seeking applicants’ salary history information.

Employer Defenses under California’s EPA

Employers can defeat Equal Pay Act claims by proving that a difference in pay is due to:

  • Seniority;
  • Merit;
  • A system that measures production; and/or
  • A “bona fide factor other than sex, race, or ethnicity.”

To prevail on this type of defense, an employer must show that it reasonably applied one or more of these factors and that the factor accounts for the entire difference in wages.

Critically, however, employers cannot justify pay differences based on past salaries. Employers are permitted to base compensation on a current employee’s current salary. However, any wage differential resulting from that compensation decision must be justified by one or more of the reasons set forth above.

Deadlines for Filing Claims under California’s EPA

In order to proceed on a claim under California’s EPA, an employee must file their claim within two years of the date of the violation. If the employer has acted willfully, then the employee has up to three years to file. Every paycheck that contains unequal pay serves as a separate violation of the EPA.

If you have questions about whether you are being discriminated against with respect to your pay, please feel free to contact Hunter Pyle Law and make use of our free and confidential intake process. We can be reached at or at