Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Pamela Lampitt, Elizabeth Maher Muoio, Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Joann Downey and Raj Mukherji to combat gender pay inequities in the workplace received final legislative approval from the full Assembly by a vote of 53-14-6 Monday.
“The gender pay gap has barely budged over the last decade, which means that at the current rate, absent any significant nationwide reforms, we won’t close this gap for another century,” said Lampitt (D-Camden/Burlington). “These measures will help us monitor discriminatory pay practices so we can crack down on blatant violators and ensure a more equitable workplace in New Jersey.”
The bill (S-992/A-2750) would modify current law, including the Law Against Discrimination (LAD), to strengthen protections against employment discrimination and promote equal pay for women.
“Women in every state and in nearly every occupation experience the pay gap,” said Muoio (D-Mercer/Hunterdon). “Over their lifetime this can have a significant impact on their financial security. Stricter measures to ensure parity in the workplace are clearly needed.”
Specifically, the bill would amend the LAD to make it an unlawful practice for an employer to discriminate between employees on the basis of sex by paying a rate of compensation, including benefits, to employees of one sex that is less than the rate paid to employees of the other sex for substantially similar work, when viewed as a composite of skill, effort and responsibility.
“The gender pay gap holds women back in so many ways. For example, it takes many women much longer to pay off their student loan debt than it does men,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). “Every little step we can take to chip away at the gap makes a difference.”
The bill also prohibits any employer paying a rate in violation of the bill from reducing the rate of compensation of any employee in order to comply with the bill. The bill would, however, permit an employer to pay a different rate of compensation if they demonstrate that the differential is made pursuant to a seniority system or 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, 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.
“There’s no silver bullet to remedy the gender pay gap,” said Downey (D-Monmouth). “But until we have a federal law mandating gender pay equality, we need to focus on the areas at the state level where we can enforce parity.”
The bill also amends the LAD to prohibit an employer from taking reprisals against an employee for disclosing information about job titles, occupational categories, rates of compensation, gender, race, ethnicity, military status, or national origin of employees or former employees. It also prohibits an employer from requiring any employee or prospective employee to waive their rights under the law as a condition of employment.
“The statistics clearly demonstrate that women continuously suffer at the hands of pay inequality, and the problem is even more pronounced for women of color,” said Mukherji (D-Hudson). “It is long overdue for states to close the gap where Congress has failed to act.”
The bill provides for the awarding of three-fold damages for violations of its provisions.
The bill further stipulates that a discriminatory compensation decision or other unlawful employment practice 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 the discriminatory compensation decision or other practice and therefore a new or continuing violation. 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.
The bill provides that nothing in the LAD will prohibit application of the doctrine of “continuing violation” or the “discovery rule” to any appropriate claim as those doctrines currently exist in New Jersey common law. The bill also makes it a violation of the LAD for an employer to require an employee to agree to any reduction of any applicable statute of limitation.
Finally, the bill requires an employer entering into a contract with the state to provide information concerning every employee employed in connection with the contract, including information regarding the employee’s gender, race, job title, occupational category, and total compensation, and report specified significant changes in employee status during the contract.
The Commissioner of Labor and Workforce Development is required to retain and make this information available to the Division of Civil Rights, and, upon request, employees and their authorized representatives.
The bill now heads to the Governor’s desk.