Jennifer Lawrence — the highest paid actress in 2015 — made headlines in October when she spoke out about being paid less than her male co-stars in “American Hustle.” Forbes magazine indicates she and other leading women had reason to complain: Only four female actors made more than $20 million in 2015, while 21 male actors made more than $20 million. While few people would feel sorry for Lawrence, who is reported to have earned more than $52 million last year, the reasons she was paid less than her co-stars and the reasons she did not know about it reveal much about the nature of pay inequity and the difficulty of addressing it.

On Jan. 1, an amendment to California law took effect that may help plaintiffs’ lawyers, human-resources departments and in-house counsel do something about pay inequity. The new law amends the California Labor Code by strengthening existing state prohibitions on pay discrimination, and it may turn out to be a model for how courts can interpret the federal Equal Pay Act and other states’ pay-equity laws.

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