The full Assembly on Thursday approved a three-bill package sponsored by Assembly Democrats Pamela Lampitt, Celeste Riley, Gabriela Mosquera, Gordon Johnson, Paul Moriarty and Angel Fuentes to help bridge the gender pay equity gap and fight discrimination in the workplace.
“Unfortunately, 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 and holding employers more accountable, we can chip away the remaining fragments of the glass ceiling.”
Lampitt 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-4044), sponsored by Lampitt, Riley, Mosquera and Johnson and known as the “Wage Transparency Act,” would require any employer who contracts with the state to provide qualifying services that are not subject to prevailing wage requirements to report to the Commissioner of Labor and Workforce Development information regarding the gender, race, job title, occupational category, and total compensation of every employee they employ in the state in connection with the contracts. The bill was approved by a vote of 45-26.
“The bottom line is this: New Jerseyans should have a right to know that their tax dollars are not going to firms that engage in discriminatory wage practices against women,” added Lampitt.
“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.”
“New Jersey prides itself on being an equal opportunity employer,” said Mosquera (D-Camden/Gloucester). “While we can’t regulate private corporations, we can, in fact, regulate contractors doing business with the state and that is a great starting point.”
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 employed by the employer during the contract period, or any authorized representative of the employee.
“Transparency is the best way to fight discrimination,” said Johnson (D-Bergen). “Without knowledge of what their counterparts are making, employees have little way of fighting wage discrimination, whether it is based on gender, race or age, unless they know what their counterparts are making.”
The bill also requires that any employer who enters into a contract to perform public work subject to prevailing wage requirements shall meet the reporting requirements of the bill by including the gender and race information, in addition to the job title, occupational category, and rate of total compensation information currently required, in the certified payroll records under the prevailing wage act.
The second bill (A-4124), sponsored by Lampitt, Riley, Moriarty and Mosquera and known as the “Unfair Wage Recovery Act” would help employees fight 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. The bill was approved by a vote of 50-23-3.
“While the Lily Ledbetter Act did give employees greater power to fight pay discrimination it still fell short of establishing true gender pay equity,” added Lampitt. “Until we achieve true pay parity, this is a law that we should have on our books in New Jersey as well.”
“Repeated wage discrimination each and every pay check can have a considerable negligent effect on an employee, especially over their lifetime,” said Moriarty (D-Camden/Gloucester). “If an employer is found to be blatantly discriminatory in this regard, they should be held accountable for the entirety of these lost wages.”
Essentially, the bill 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 Assembly also reapproved legislation (A-2648) sponsored by Fuentes, Lampitt & Riley that 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. I’m glad we were able to rectify this legislation to ensure that this protection gets put in place.”
The measure was originally approved last June but was conditionally vetoed by the Governor in the fall with the recommendation that the proposed language be removed from the “Conscientious Employee Protection Act” (CEPA) and instead incorporated it into the “Law Against Discrimination Act” (LAD) because workplace discrimination claims in New Jersey are brought under LAD, making it more consistent with the underlying goals of existing law.
The Assembly concurred with the Governor’s recommendation today by a vote of 61-11-2. It now heads to the Senate for final legislative concurrence.