Gov. Jerry Brown on Tuesday signed a bill aimed at eliminating the pay gap between men and women in California as supporters touted it as the strongest equal-pay law in the nation.

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RICHMOND, Calif. — Gov. Jerry Brown on Tuesday signed a bill aimed at eliminating the pay gap between men and women in California as supporters touted it as the strongest equal-pay law in the nation.

The measure was introduced by Democratic state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson in response to a study by a civil-rights group that found that women in California working full time made a median 84 cents for every dollar earned by men in 2013.

“The inequities that have plagued our state … are slowly being resolved with this kind of bill,” Brown said at the signing ceremony at Rosie the Riveter National Historical Park in the Bay Area city of Richmond.

The issue also has gained attention in Washington state, where the pay gap has been wider than California’s.

Brown called the measure “a very important milestone,” and said it will help the state as it is “reaching toward greater equity.”

The California Fair Pay Act builds on existing protections by barring an employer from paying any of its employees at wage rates less than the rates paid to employees of the opposite sex for substantially similar work, not just for equal work or the exact same job title.

The new law, which takes effect Jan. 1, also allows employees to file complaints alleging pay gaps between people doing substantially similar jobs at different worksites, not just at their own site. So grocery workers at one store could challenge higher wages paid to those at another owned by the same employer.

It also bars retaliation against employees who ask about or discuss wages paid to co-workers, and clarifies their ability to challenge whether there is discrimination. The bill creates a new cause of legal action for retaliation against workers seeking fair pay.

An employer sued by a worker would have to show that a difference in wages is due to factors other than gender, such as merit or seniority; that it is job-related and reasonable, and that it is not due to discrimination.

Jackson said the current law was too narrow because courts have interpreted it as meaning that a woman has to work the exact same job as a man to qualify for equal pay. “Now they’re going to have to value the work equally,” she said.

The bill does more to level the playing field than existing law, said Jackson, who is chairwoman of the California Legislative Women’s Caucus.

“Equal pay isn’t just the right thing for women, it’s the right thing for our economy and for California,” Jackson said. “Families rely on women’s income more than ever before. Because of the wage gap, our state and families are missing out on $33.6 billion a year.”

The bill’s supporters cited the wage gap identified in an analysis of U.S. Census data by the National Partnership for Women & Families, a Washington, D.C.-based, nonprofit advocacy group for workplace fairness.

The group found that Latinas in California make only 44 cents for every dollar a white man makes, while African-American women are paid only 64 cents per dollar earned by white men.

The pay gap between genders overall is broader in Washington state, where women made 77 percent of what men made in 2014, according to the National Women’s Law Center. That put Washington state 36th in the nation in terms of the ratio of women’s to men’s earnings.

Last year, the Seattle City Council launched its own citywide effort to work toward pay equity. And in April, the council voted to provide city employees who are new parents up to four weeks of paid time off at their normal wage, making Seattle one of just a handful of cities around the country to offer paid parental leave to its own employees. Supporters said the benefit should help the city narrow its pay gap between genders because women often lose ground when they have children.

California’s bill was introduced just days after actress Patricia Arquette called for equal pay for women in her acceptance speech at the Academy Awards.

On Tuesday, Arquette hailed the bill signing, calling it “a critical step toward ensuring that women in California are seen and valued as equals.”

Women are the breadwinners in two-thirds of families with children in California, according to Jennifer Reisch, legal director for Equal Rights Advocates.

“Yet women, especially women of color and mothers, continue to lose precious income to a pervasive, gender-based wage gap,” Reisch said. “SB 358 will make California’s equal pay law clearer, stronger and more effective.”