Equal Pay Act in California: How To Bring a Claim

Equal Pay Act in California: How To Bring a Claim

You’re working hard but suspect you’re underpaid compared to colleagues doing similar work. Could it be discrimination? You’re in the right place to find out.

This article decodes the California Equal Pay Act, showing you how to recognize if you’re a victim, and guiding you through the steps to claim your rightful compensation.

It’s time to stand up for your right to equal pay. Let’s dive in!

California Equal Pay Act: What is it?

The California Equal Pay Act (CEPA) is a significant law you should know about, as it prohibits employers from paying you less than employees of a different sex, race, or ethnicity for substantially similar work. This law, enforced both in the public and private sectors, aims to eliminate pay disparities rooted in sexism and racism.

However, it’s important to note that wage gaps can be justified by factors like education, training, or job-related needs. You’re also protected from retaliation if you inquire about wage scales or co-workers’ salaries.

The bottom line, CEPA empowers you to demand fair pay and promotes wage transparency in the workplace. Should you experience any breaches, you can file a claim with the California Labor Commissioner or bring a lawsuit.

When are wage disparities lawful?

Despite the protections under CEPA, you should be aware that not all wage disparities are considered unlawful. It’s crucial to understand that employers can legally pay different wages based on factors such as education, training, and experience. If these factors genuinely influence an employee’s ability to perform their job, differences in pay are permitted.

Additionally, if an employer can demonstrate that wage disparities are job-related and consistent with business necessity, they can also be deemed lawful. However, employers can’t exploit these legitimate factors to discriminate based on sex, race, or ethnicity.

If you suspect that your wage disparity isn’t based on these legitimate factors, it’s crucial to consult with an experienced employment lawyer or file a claim with the California Labor Commissioner.

Does my wage history matter

In your quest for fair pay, you might wonder if your wage history has any significant role to play. In California, the answer is generally, no. This is due to a law that came into effect in 2018, prohibiting employers from asking about your salary history.

Three important points to keep in mind:

  1. Employers can’t ask about your previous salaries during an interview or at any point during the hiring process.
  2. If you voluntarily disclose your wage history, an employer can consider it when deciding your pay.
  3. Despite this, employers must still pay equal wages for substantially similar work, regardless of past salaries.

Pay scales: Can I ask about it?

You might be wondering if it’s possible to ask about pay scales during your employment, and the answer is yes, you absolutely can. Under the California Equal Pay Act, you’re entitled to ask about pay scales after an initial job interview. This law aims to promote transparency and fairness in the workplace.

If you’re curious about how your salary compares to others doing similar work, you’re within your rights to request this information. Just remember, employers aren’t required to disclose individual employees’ wages. However, they can’t retaliate against you for asking. So, don’t be afraid to ask about your rights.

Understanding the pay scale can provide a valuable benchmark for negotiating your salary or advocating for pay equity.

How can I go about filing an Equal Pay Act claim?

If you believe you’re not receiving equal pay for similar work, it’s crucial to know how to bring a claim under the California Equal Pay Act. Here are some steps you can take:

  1. Collect Evidence: Document any instances of wage disparity. Keep copies of your pay stubs and any other evidence you may have of unequal pay.
  2. Consult Legal Counsel: It’s in your best interest to discuss your case with an attorney who specializes in employment law. They can guide you through the process and advise on the strength of your claim.
  3. File a Claim: You can file a claim with the California Labor Commissioner’s Office or, if needed, bring a lawsuit against your employer.

What is the timeframe, or statute of limitations, for submitting an Equal Pay claim to the Labor Commissioner?

Before proceeding further with your claim, it’s crucial to understand that there’s a defined time limit, or statute of limitations, within which you must file an Equal Pay Act claim with the Labor Commissioner.

For a willful violation, you have three years from the date of the violation to file your claim. However, if the violation isn’t willful, the time limit decreases to two years.

It’s important to note that each paycheck that violates the Equal Pay Act counts as a separate violation. Hence, time limitations apply to each paycheck separately.

Be sure to act promptly to pursue your claim within these time frames, as delay can lead to your claim being dismissed, no matter its merit.

How much money can I receive by submitting a wage claim?

When filing a wage claim under the California Equal Pay Act, there’s potential to recover significant monetary compensation. This isn’t just about getting back the wages you’ve been unfairly denied; you could also be entitled to additional damages.

Here’s what you can expect:

  1. Back Pay: If you’re successful, you’ll get the difference between what you were paid and what you should’ve been paid.
  2. Interest: You’re also entitled to interest on the back pay from the date of the violation.
  3. Liquidated Damages: If the employer acted in bad faith, you could receive an amount equal to your back pay as liquidated damages.

What are the options if I experience retaliation?

In some instances, you might face retaliation from your employer for asserting your rights under the California Equal Pay Act. Retaliation can take many forms, such as demotion, dismissal, or reduction in hours. It’s important to know your rights and how to protect yourself.

If you’re experiencing retaliation, you can file a complaint with the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE) within a year of the retaliatory action. You could also file a lawsuit against your employer within the same timeframe.

Action Timeframe
File a complaint with DLSE
Within 1 year
File a lawsuit
Within 1 year
Possible recovery
Back wages, lost benefits, equitable relief
Prohibited retaliation
Demotion, dismissal, reduction in hours

What is the California Fair Pay Act?

You might be wondering, what’s the California Fair Pay Act? This law is designed to tackle wage disparity head-on, ensuring that you’re paid fairly for the work you do, regardless of your gender, race, or ethnicity.

Here’s a quick rundown:

  1. The Act requires equal pay for substantially similar work. It means if you and a colleague do similar tasks, but your titles differ, you should still receive equal pay.
  2. It empowers the Labor Commissioner to investigate wage gaps throughout California’s workforce. This watchdog role helps to hold employers accountable.
  3. Private employers with at least 100 employees must submit a pay data report annually. This transparency measure aims to keep employers honest and promote wage equity.


Standing up for your rights is crucial. If you suspect you’re a victim of wage disparity, know that California’s Equal Pay Act is on your side. Don’t let factors like race, gender, or ethnicity determine your pay.

Understand the lawful wage disparities, ask about pay scales, and don’t fear retaliation. Remember, you have the power to bring an Equal Pay Act claim and potentially receive compensation.

It’s time to ensure fair pay for your hard work.

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