A judge in California recently ruled that the state law requiring companies name at least one person who self-identifies as a woman to a seat on the corporate board violates the state constitution's equal protection clause.
Superior Court Judge Maureen Duffy-Lewis issued a ruling Friday after a legal challenge from the conservative legal group Judicial Watch. Jerry Brown, D, said when he signed the law, he did so to send a message during the MeToo movement despite acknowledging that the measure was on shaky legal grounds.
The law required corporations to have one female, which means an individual who self-identifies her gender as a woman, without regard to the individual s designated sex at birth on their boards of directors by the end of 2019. By January 2022, boards with five directors had to have two women and boards with six or more members had to have three women.
Under the Women on Boards law, S.B. Companies failing to report board compositions to California's secretary of state could face fines of up to $100,000, while failing to disclose the number of female board members could cost companies $300,000 in fines.
The law was needed to combat gender discrimination that benefited men, and the law did not implement a gender-based quota because boards could create additional seats for women without having to remove men, according to the state.
Judicial Watch argued that it was not legal to use taxpayer funds to enforce a law that violates the equal protection clause.
The judge found that the legal group's evidence was compelling and that similar board candidates were treated differently based on gender. The judge said that the state did not prove that the law was narrowly tailored or meant to fix specific, purposeful, intentional and unlawful discrimination. Secretary of State Alex Padilla sent Brown a letter before the then-governor signed the legislation into law, warning that any attempt by the secretary of state to collect or enforce the fine would likely exceed its authority. Friday's ruling came after a similar measure was struck down last month. By 2021, the ruling, challenged by Judicial Watch, required corporations to have racial minorities or members of the LGBTQ community serve on their boards. Gavin Newsom, D, signed the law in 2020.