Downey Bill Promoting Equal Pay for Women Sent to Governor's Desk

Historic legislation sponsored by Assemblywoman Joann Downey to promote equal pay for women was advanced out of both the Assembly and Senate on Monday.

The bill (A-1) modifies current law, including the Law Against Discrimination (LAD), to strengthen protections against employment discrimination and promote equal pay for equal women.

Specifically, the bill will amend the LAD to make it an unlawful practice for an employer to discriminate against an employee because the employee is a member of a class protected against discrimination by the LAD, by paying a rate of compensation, including benefits, to employees of a protected class less than the rate paid to employees not of the class for substantially similar work, when viewed as a composite of skill, effort, and responsibility.

“Equal pay is vital for hardworking families in New Jersey, many of which increasingly rely on women’s earnings to make ends meet,” said Assemblywoman Downey. “When women bring home less money, it means it can be difficult to provide everyday needs of their families such as groceries, rent, and child care.”

This historic piece of legislation is based on the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, which states that the 180-day statute of limitations for filing an equal pay lawsuit regarding pay discrimination resets with each new paycheck affected by that discriminatory action.

A woman working full time, year-round, earns $10,800 less per year than a man, Assemblywoman Downey said. This disparity can add up to nearly half a million dollars over a career. In this aggregate, women are paid less than $4 for every $5 paid to men. This ultimately affects a family's ability to meet all their needs and our economy suffers as well.

The bill prohibits an employer paying a rate in violation of the law from reducing the rate of compensation of an employee in order to comply with the legislation. It will, 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 or other characteristics of members of a protected class, 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.

The measure also prohibits 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.

Finally, the bill would require 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 the information available to the Division of Civil Rights and, upon request, employees and their authorized representatives.

The measure, titled the “Diane B. Allen Equal Pay Act,” is named after former New Jersey Senator Diane Allen. Senator Allen was a pioneering broadcaster in Philadelphia and Chicago who left her job in 1994 after filing three complaints alleging gender- and age-based discrimination with the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission for age and sex discrimination, noted the sponsors.

This bill was voted out of both Houses and now heads to the Governor’s desk.

Assemblywoman Downey is also sponsoring a bill that prohibits employers from inquiring about a candidate’s salary history. The goal of this bill was to end the perpetuation of pay disparities workers have fell victim to at previous jobs.

“We are committed to moving this bill to be on the Governor's desk as well and add another safeguard to prevent wage discrimination based on gender, which ultimately leads to women earning less money in their lifetime. That wage disparity follows women into retirement where they often are more impoverished than men,” Assemblywoman Downey said.

This bill amends the “Law Against Discrimination,” P.L.1945, c.169 (C.10:5-1 et seq.), to strengthen protections against employment discrimination and thereby promote equal pay for women by prohibiting any employer from:
1. Screening a job applicant based on the applicant’s wage or salary history, including by requiring the applicant’s prior wages, salaries or benefits satisfy any minimum or maximum criteria, or relying on the applicant’s salary in determining a salary amount for the applicant at any stage in the hiring process, including finalizing the employment contract;

2. Inquiring, in writing or otherwise, about the salary history of a job applicant, including, but not limited to, the applicant’s compensation and benefits, except that the employer may seek the history if the prospective employee voluntarily, without employer coercion, provides the employer with a written authorization; and

3. Taking reprisals against any employee for disclosing to any other employee or former employee of the employer information regarding the job title, occupational category, rate of compensation, the gender, race, ethnicity, military status, or national origin of the employee or any other employee or former employee of the employer.

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