A state judge has struck down a landmark California law requiring women be included on corporate boards deeming it to be unconstitutional.
Superior Court Judge Maureen Duffy-Lewis stated in a ruling on 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 number of size of the board, by 2021 or face the possibility of a fine.
Companies that failed to report board compositions to the California secretary of state’s office could be subject to a $100,000 fine under the law, while multiple failures to have the required number of women board members could result in a $300,000 fine, according to the Associated Press.
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, Judge 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.
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.
Secretary of State Alex Padilla sent Brown a letter before the then-governor signed the law warning that any attempt by the secretary of state to collect or enforce the fine would likely exceed its authority, according to the Associated Press.
The ruling comes after another California judge struck down a law last month requiring public companies headquartered in California to have at least one racially, ethnically or otherwise diverse director by 2021, the Wall Street Journal reported.