Weinberg, Sweeney, Cunningham-Sponsored Bill Seeks to the Close Wage Gap in NJ
TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, Senate President Steve Sweeney and Senator Sandra Bolden Cunningham to close the wage gap between men and women in New Jersey was approved today by the Senate Labor Committee. The legislation was announced last week on the 7th Anniversary of President Obama’s enactment of the landmark Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.
“Women in New Jersey and across the country still earn less than men for the same work. This is unacceptable,” said Senator Weinberg. “We have to do more to create an environment where women’s work is valued and compensated equal to their male counterparts. Unfortunately, our current laws don’t do enough to protect against wage discrimination. We have to take action now for our residents who are working hard but not getting the pay they deserve, but also for our children and grandchildren who should grow up in a society that treats them fairly. We have to work to close the wage gap in New Jersey, and making these changes to the law will help in that effort.”
The federal Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act extended the time period in which individuals can bring pay discrimination claims, resetting the statute of limitations each time a discriminatory paycheck is issued. It is named for Ledbetter, who after working for 19 years at the Goodyear plant in Gadsden, Alabama, learned through an anonymous note that she was paid less than her male coworkers for doing the same job. Ledbetter was unable to recoup the lost wages due to expiration of the statute of limitations.
The federal law marked significant progress in helping to close the wage gap, but there is more work to do. The senators’ bill (S-992) would make changes to the law to combat pay discrimination by creating greater transparency surrounding compensation and greater protections for employees. The bill would prohibit unequal pay for “substantially similar” work, and would require an employer to demonstrate a different rate of compensation is the result of specific factors, such as training and education. It would restart the statute of limitations each time a paycheck is issued in furtherance of discrimination, reflecting language in the federal Lilly Ledbetter Act; however, it would allow back pay for the entire period of time in which the violation is continuous, a provision that is stronger than the federal law’s two-year cap.
“It is unconscionable that in this day and age, women continue to make less than men for doing the exact same work. Equal pay will raise wages for women, helping families to get ahead, and it will benefit the entire state by strengthening the economy,” said Senator Sweeney. “We are going to work to get this done because it is the right thing to do for New Jersey residents and for the state.”
In 2016, women in the United States make only 79 cents for every dollar a man makes. In New Jersey, on average, women make 80.4 cents for each dollar a man makes, according to information from the National Women’s Law Center. The wage gap is much greater for women of color: African-American women make 58.1 cents for every dollar a man does; for Latinas, the wage statistic is 42.7 cents, the NWLC reported.
“Racial and gender inequality still exists today, and while we are making progress it isn’t happening fast enough,” said Senator Cunningham (D-Hudson). “As a new generation of women enters the working world, they should enter it knowing that society is acknowledging them as equals, no matter their gender, race, or religion. This legislation will put in place specific measures to bring transparency to wages and help to combat wage discrimination in the workplace. Taken together, these changes would be a major step forward in the effort to bring about pay equity in New Jersey.”
Between 1980 and 2000, women’s earnings grew while men’s wages remained unchanged, helping to narrow the gap in pay between men and women. However, progress has slowed, and in every state in the nation, women on average still earn less than men, according to research from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. If wages continue to change at the current pace, women in New Jersey will not see equal pay until the year 2055, the organization found, and women in all states would not achieve pay equity until the next century.
Specifically, the legislation would:
- Prohibit unequal pay for “substantially similar” work, under the Law Against Discrimination (LAD). The legislation would make it unlawful for an employer to pay a rate of compensation, including benefits, to an employee of one sex less than the rate paid to an employee of the other sex for substantially similar work when viewed as a composite of skill, effort and responsibility, unless specific conditions apply.
- Require different rate of compensation be justified by factors other than sex. The bill permits an employer to pay a different rate of compensation if the employer demonstrates that the differential is made pursuant to a seniority system, a merit system, or is based on legitimate, bona fide factors other than sex, such as training, education, experience, or the quantity or quality of production. It requires that each factor is applied reasonably, that one or more of the factors account for the entire wage differential, and that the factor or factors do not perpetuate a sex-based differential in compensation, are job-related and based upon legitimate business necessities. Comparison of wage rates would be based on those in all of an employer’s operations or facilities.
- Restart statute of limitations for each instance of discrimination. Provides that a discriminatory compensation decision or other employment practice that is unlawful under the LAD occurs each time that compensation is paid in furtherance of that discriminatory decision or practice – effectively making each paycheck another instance of discrimination, reflecting the language in the federal Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. In addition, the bill provides that liability shall accrue and an aggrieved person may obtain relief for back pay for the entire period of time in which the violation has been continuous, if the violation continues to occur within the statute of limitations. This provision is stronger than the federal Lilly Ledbetter Act, which has a two-year cap on back pay.
- Prohibit employer retaliation against employee for disclosing compensation. Employers could not take reprisals against an employee for disclosing information about the job title, occupational category, and rate of compensation of any employees or former employees, as well as other information. It would prohibit an employer from requiring an employee or prospective employee to forgo rights to make or request those disclosures.
- Require transparency in state contracting. Requires contractors to provide information on gender, race, job title, occupational category and compensation, and to report certain changes during the course of the contract; information must be filed with Labor Commissioner and Division of Civil Rights. The bill requires disclosure to employees and their authorized representatives upon request.
The committee approved the bill by a vote of 3-0-1. It next heads to the full Senate for a vote.