California Law Requiring Women on Corporate Boards Overturned

A California law that required companies based primarily in the state to have women on their corporate boards has been ruled unconstitutional by a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge.

In a 23-page ruling filed Friday, Judge Maureen Duffy-Lewis ruled that the state could not prove that “the use of a gender-based classification was necessary to boost California’s economy, improve opportunities for women in the workplace and protect California taxpayers.” public employees, pensions and retirees”.

The state Legislature also did not consider amending existing antidiscrimination laws or enacting a new antidiscrimination law focused on the board selection process before Senate Bill 826 was enacted, Duffy-Lewis wrote.

Furthermore, the court ruled, the state could not provide any evidence that a specific corporation discriminated against any women and had been subject to the law.

The court’s ruling comes three months after a bench trial in which the conservative legal group Judicial Watch challenged the law’s validity under the equal protection clause of the state Constitution, arguing that taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay. to enforce a gender-based quota for corporate boards. .

The law was signed by outgoing Governor Jerry Brown in 2018, but by 2022 it no longer had power, according to secretary of state employees who testified during the trial.

Businesses that did not comply with the requirements faced potential fines of $100,000 for the first offense and $300,000 for the second, but no company was ever fined for not complying and the state did not plan to enforce the mandate, said Betsy Bogart, director of programs business in the secretary of state’s office.

In signing the law, Brown acknowledged potentially “fatal” legal problems in the measure, but said it was “high time” to force corporate action.

Before the bill was signed, then-Secretary of State Alex Padilla told Brown it would be difficult to enforce.

“Any attempt by the secretary of state to collect or enforce the fine would likely exceed his authority,” Padilla wrote to Brown in a letter filed at trial.

The secretary of state’s office is reviewing the court’s ruling, according to a spokesman.

Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins (D-San Diego), a co-author of the bill, called the ruling disappointing.

“More women on corporate boards means better decisions and businesses that outperform the competition, that’s a studied and proven fact,” Atkins said in a statement. “We believe this law remains important, despite the disappointing ruling by the Los Angeles Superior Court, and exemplifies equal access and opportunity, the very foundation of our democracy. Those who still fear women in leadership positions must work to find out because the world goes on without them.”

Former state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, who testified during the trial and also co-authored SB 826, said the court’s ruling came as no surprise because Duffy-Lewis was skeptical about the intent of the law during the trial.

“She rejected what I believe to be the critical elements and therefore ruled against us,” Jackson said by phone Monday. “I hope that the case progresses to the higher courts and that the appellate courts reinstate the law.”

Jackson said he had no direct knowledge of whether the state will appeal the court’s decision.

This month, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Terry Green struck down a similar state law that aimed to increase representation of defined minority groups, including LGBTQ people, on the boards of all California public companies. .

That lawsuit was also brought on behalf of California taxpayers by Judicial Watch.

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