On his 99th day in office, Gov. Phil Murphy brandished a tough pay equity law, one with teeth that guarantees women and minorities equal wages for comparable work. It’s a triumph for many advocates, who pushed this bill for years, only to see it vetoed by former Gov. Chris Christie.
“Let’s be clear, there are many employers who have always done the right thing and paid equal wages. We hold them up and we thank them for being good corporate citizens. But for those who thought they could get away for paying a woman less just because they could, today is your wake-up call,” Murphy said.
“This is a fulfillment of a dream that New Jersey would have the strongest pay equity bill in the nation,” said Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg. “Activism can pay off. If you’re in the right legislature, with the right leaders and the right governor in office, it happens.”
“To everyone, congratulations. It couldn’t have been done without all of you, without your persistence and a little Jewish grandmother who used to kick my rear end on a regular basis,” said Senate President Steve Sweeney.
The Diane Allen Equal Pay Act is named for a retired Republican state senator and former Philadelphia news anchor who challenged her TV station over what the guys made.
“I can’t think of a better bill to hold my name. This is so important to me, to see women move forward,” Allen said.
The ceremony also featured crusader Lilly Ledbetter, the namesake of the less-stringent national pay equity law. She said equal pay means security.
“It’s your retirement, it’s your 401k, and it’s your social security. So it’s so critical and so important to get this right,” Ledbetter said.
New Jersey’s law will empower women to request salary information from employers and sue for six years back pay, plus triple damages if discrimination is uncovered. The law prohibits retribution, one sponsor said.
Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt advises women to, “Speak up. Talk about it. Ask. Be forward about it. Determine whether or not they are being shortchanged now, today.”
Companies can justify wage disparities based on specifics like seniority, education and experience or performance. And the New Jersey Business and Industry Association offered guidance to members while urging companies to watch for “aggressive legal efforts to capitalize on the six-year lookback period, without merit, which will come at great expense to unsuspecting businesses.” For New Jersey women, who earn 82 cents for every dollar a man makes, the law’s a milestone.
“It means that women and minorities can earn the rightful money that they’re really earning and entitled to under the law,” Ledbetter said.
What’s next? The law takes effect July 1. Expect to see wage discrimination claims filed by women and other groups protected under the law, and companies to start examining the fairness of their pay structures.