Californiaâ€™s newly-enacted Equal Pay Act couldÂ have a far-reaching impact on the compensation practices of top Hollywood film and television production studios.
The new legislation,Â signed by Gov. Jerry BrownÂ on Tuesday, expands Californiaâ€™s existing equal pay protections while shifting the burden to state employers to prove that they do not pay women less than their male counterparts for doing â€œsimilarâ€ work.
The law, set to take effect January 1, further mandates that state employers can only justify higher compensation for men if they can prove that the decision was based on merit, seniority or other â€œbona fide factors other than sex.â€
The law will undoubtedly affectÂ the stateâ€™s entertainment industry, where issues of womenâ€™s compensation have returned to the forefront of debate.Â In a landmark moment at this yearâ€™s Academy Awards, Best Actress winner Patricia Arquette used her acceptance speech toÂ call for an end to wage disparityÂ in a broadcast that was seen by roughly 35 million people.
The billâ€™s author, state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara), credited Arquetteâ€™s Oscar moment with providing the momentum necessary to ensure its passage,Â according toÂ theÂ Los Angeles Times. And on Wednesday, ArquetteÂ praised the signing of the bill, calling it a â€œcritical step toward ensuring that women in California are seen and valued as equals.â€
The law will likely change the long-held compensation practices of top film studios,Â who have in the past determined salaries paid to actors, directors, writers and executives using what could be described as subjective criteria.
The salaries of the actors appearing in last yearâ€™s hit filmÂ American Hustle,Â revealedÂ in internal Sony emails leaked in last yearâ€™s massive hack of the studio. are often held up as an example of Hollywoodâ€™s wage disparity problem. Megastar Jennifer Lawrence, fresh off of the latest installment in the highly lucrativeÂ Hunger GamesÂ franchise and a Best Actress win forÂ Silver Linings Playbook, was given 7 percent ofÂ Hustleâ€˜s back-end grosses. Amy Adams, a critical darling who had been nominated for four Academy Awards to that point (and was ultimately nominated forÂ Hustle), also got 7 percent. Meanwhile, the filmâ€™s male stars, Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper and Jeremy Renner, each received 9 percent.
News of the pay gap onÂ HustleÂ caused a stir in Hollywood: shortly afterward, Charlize Theron demanded (and received) a $10 million increase in her salary forÂ The Huntsman, bringing her pay up to what her male co-star Chris Hemsworth earned for the film. Lawrence herself negotiated a whopping $20 million fee for the upcoming sci-fi filmÂ Passengers, a salary thatÂ will pay her doubleÂ what her male co-star Chris Pratt will earn for the film.
Now, with the passage of the Equal Pay Act, studios will now need to take a more through, cautious approach to ensure they are providing equal pay in compliance with the law.
â€œI think youâ€™ll see studios and their counsel take it more seriously than they have in the past,â€ attorney Seth Neulight explained to theÂ Times. â€œThere is now another tool in the toolbox for female actors to speak out.â€