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Democratic Bill Package to Bridge Gender Wage Gap Gets Green Light from Assembly Panel

Lampitt, Riley, Moriarty, Fuentes Measures Will Help Empower Employees to Fight Wage Discrimination

The Assembly Labor Committee on Monday approved a package of bills sponsored by Assembly Democrats Pamela Lampitt, Celeste Riley, Paul Moriarty, and Angel Fuentes to help bridge the gender pay equity gap and fight discrimination in the workplace.

The slightly amended measures, which had previously been approved by the Assembly Women and Children Committee last week, would require employers to inform workers of their rights to be free of gender inequity or bias in pay; lengthen the statute of limitations for employees to take action against unlawful compensation practices; prohibit employer retaliation if an employee divulges certain job information; and require state contractors to file information on the employees they hire.

“Unfortunately, we know all too well from the hearing we held recently that gender wage discrimination is alive and well in the 21st century,” said Lampitt (D-Camden/Burlington), Chair of the Assembly Women and Children Committee. “Hopefully by empowering employees with knowledge of their rights and holding employers more accountable, we can chip away the remaining fragments of the glass ceiling.”

The sponsors noted that, according to 2009 U.S. Census Bureau data, women still earn roughly 77 cents for every dollar their male counterparts earn, with the gender income gap highest in higher paying occupations. Furthermore, minority women fare significantly worse with median earnings for African American and Hispanic women working full-time, year-round far less compared to their white, non-Hispanic male counterparts.

The first bill (A-2647), sponsored by Lampitt, Riley and Moriarty, would require every employer in New Jersey to notify employees of their right to be free of gender inequity or bias in pay, compensation, benefits or other terms or conditions of employment under the state’s “Law Against Discrimination.” In doing so, employers would be required to post a form proscribed by the Commissioner of Labor and Workplace Development in a place accessible to all workers in each of the employer’s workplaces.

The bill would also require that every employer provide each worker with a written copy of the notification: not later than 30 days after the form of the notification is issued by the commissioner; at the time of the worker’s hiring, if the worker is hired after the issuance; and at any time, upon the first request of the worker. The employer would also have to make the notification available by email, printed material such as a paycheck insert, and through an Internet website.

Employees would also have to sign an acknowledgment that they have been made aware of their rights.

“It’s almost mind boggling to think that women today still face some of the same discrimination in the workplace that they did 100 years ago,” said Riley (D-Cumberland/Gloucester/Salem). “Any woman that is as equally educated or qualified as a man should be entitled to equal compensation for the same job, plain and simple.”

The second bill (A-2648), sponsored by Fuentes, Lampitt & Riley, would prohibit employer retaliation against any employee who discloses to any other employee, former employee, or their authorized representative, certain information such as the job title, occupational category, and rate of compensation (including benefits), or the gender, race or other characteristics of the employee or former employee if the disclosure was made for the purpose of investigating the possibility of pay or compensation discrimination.

“Putting a gag order on employees enables employers to continue discriminatory compensation practices because they can operate behind a cloak of secrecy,” said Fuentes (D-Camden/Gloucester). “Employees shouldn’t face threats for willingly sharing information about their own job, especially in the name of pay equity.”

The third bill (A-2649), sponsored by Lampitt, Riley and Moriarty, would require any employer who contracts with the state or a state agency to report to the Commissioner of Labor and Workforce Development information regarding the gender, race, job title, occupational category, and rate of compensation, including benefits, of every employee they employ in New Jersey in connection with the contracts, and provide updates of the information.

The commissioner would be required to retain the information and make it available to the Division of Civil Rights in the Department of Law and Public Safety, and, upon request, provide it to anyone who is or was an employee of the employer during the period of the contracts, or any authorized representative of the employee. However, the bill prohibits the disclosure by the commissioner of the identity of the employee or representative making the request.

The last bill (A-2650), sponsored by Lampitt, Riley and Moriarty, would help employees fight unlawful employment practices within the work place, particularly when it comes to pay discrimination. The bill mirrors language in the federal “Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009,” which clarified, under various federal anti-discrimination laws, that an unlawful discriminatory compensation decision occurs each time wages, benefits, or other compensation are paid to an individual.

“While the Lily Ledbetter Act fell short of establishing true gender pay equity, it did give employees greater power to fight pay discrimination in the work place,” said Moriarty (D-Camden/Gloucester). “Until we achieve true pay parity, this is a law that we should have on our books in New Jersey as well.”

Essentially, the provision would “restart” the applicable statute of limitations governing discriminatory compensation claims under the “Law Against Discrimination,” effectively making each paycheck another instance of the discriminatory compensation decision or other practice and therefore a new or continuing violation. Under current law, the statute of limitations is two years.

The measures now await consideration by the full Assembly.