California Law Requiring Women on Boards Is Unconstitutional, Judge Rules

The judge finds the law violates the equal protection clause of the state's constitution.

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A state judge has struck down a landmark California law requiring women be included on corporate boards as unconstitutional.

Superior Court Judge Maureen Duffy-Lewis said in a ruling dated Friday that the 2018 law violated the equal protection clause of the state's constitution. The law required publicly traded companies headquartered in California to have up to three female directors, depending on the size of the board, by 2021 or face fines.

The law was challenged by the conservative legal group Judicial Watch, which argued that use of taxpayer funds to enforce a law mandating a gender-based quota violated the equal protection clause of the California Constitution. In her 28-page ruling, Duffy-Lewis agreed, saying "the plaintiff's evidence is compelling."

"The court eviscerated California's unconstitutional gender quota mandate," Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said in a statement. The California secretary of state's office didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

When then-Gov. Jerry Brown signed the bill into law in September 2018, he noted it could be overturned but said but he wanted to send a message during the #MeToo era.

"Given all the special privileges that corporations have enjoyed for so long, it's high time corporate boards include the people who constitute more than half the 'persons' in America," Brown wrote in announcing his signing of the bill.

The law came as the tech industry was grappling with diversity issues. The numbers of women in tech were low. In 2018, Equilar, a company that specializes in board recruiting, found that 20.4% of technology companies on the Russell 3000 Index had no women in their boards.

Since the law was signed in 2018, women now account for 26.5% of public company board seats, according to the California Partners Project, a sponsor of the law.