And the 2015 award for most influential class of wage equality spokeswomen goes to — Hollywood actresses.  Patricia Arquette’s passionate Oscar acceptance speech this past February demanding gender wage equality was met with cheers, standing ovation, and increased conversation on the topic around the country.  More recently, the Sony hack revealed a huge pay disparity between Jennifer Lawrence and her male costars in American Hustle.  This sparked the writing of an impassioned essay by Lawrence entitled “Why Do I Make Less Than My Male Co-Stars,” which not only questioned the wage gap, but perceptions of women in the workplace and beyond.

In early October, it seemed the prayers of these advocating actresses had finally been answered when California Governor Jerry Brown signed the new Fair Pay Act into law.  The bill’s author personally attributed Arquette with creating additional momentum for the bill, which makes important changes in California’s employment law regime.  Most notably, it creates broader criteria for wage comparisons, allowing employees to compare their wages to those of employees who do “substantially similar work”, rather than exactly “equal work.”  Additionally, the law places the burden of proof on employers to show that wage differentials are based on one or more acceptable factors listed by the statute.  Additional provisions allow employees to prevail even if employers meet the requisite burden.

While the Fair Pay Act appears to provide the relief sought by Arquette and Lawrence, in reality, the law will be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to apply in the acting industry.  First, many actors are more or less self-employed by their own “loan-out” companies.  Since the law covers the relationship between a specific employer and employee, it would require actors and actresses seeking relief to bring an action against his or her own company.  Second, production companies are typically formed project-by-project, so it is likely that the the law would  only allow comparisons of pay between actors and actresses working on the same movie or television show.

Many employees, production companies, and directors have already flocked to California courts attempting to determine their rights under this new law.  Only time will tell if this bill grants actresses the wage equality they seek, but sadly, it seems that additional reform is required before adequate justice is obtained.

Sarah Dotzel

One Response to Hollywood Actress Inspires Gender Wage Equality Law that Provides No Relief in Her Industry?

  1. Erin Webb says:

    I agree – but while I anticipate that California’s Fair Pay Act may not have the desired effect sought by Hollywood actresses for their respective industry, I am glad to see steps taken towards bridging the pay gap.