Leslie A. Farber
Equal Pay Becomes Law in New Jersey
Updated: Jul 3, 2019
Female workers in New Jersey typically earn 81 cents for every dollar a man makes, a wage gap that has cost women $32.5 billion a year in lost wages and economic power. That will change beginning July 1, when the Diane B. Allen Equal Pay Act takes effect.
The law, signed by Governor Phil Murphy in April, amends the state's Law Against Discrimination to ban employers from paying men and women different rates for "substantially similar" work. The law also will allow for up to six years of back pay for wage discrimination, three times as long as the cap under the federal Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, and lawsuits will be allowed by any group covered under the state’s discrimination law.
Lily Ledbetter, who joined Governor Murphy for the bill-signing ceremony, worked for Goodyear for more than two decades and was awarded a $3 million settlement after suing the company for wage discrimination. The decision was overturned on appeal, but less than two years later President Barack Obama made headlines by signing the law bearing her name, which makes it easier for individuals subjected to pay discrimination to assert their rights. Previously women had only 180 days from being discriminated against to file a claim. The law defines each paycheck as a new discriminatory act, resetting the 180-day limit to file a claim.
While the New Jersey law represents a significant step forward, the struggle for gender equality dates back to the drafting of the Constitution in 1776, when Abigail Adams wrote to her husband John, “In the new code of laws, do not forget the ladies.” The new Constitution denied women most legal rights, including the right to vote, own property, keep their own wages, and have custody of their children.
Women have been fighting for the right to be treated as equals ever since, including the right to be paid the same as men for similar work. The inaugural Woman's Rights Convention in 1848, led by abolitionists Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott, marked the first public demand for equality.
After the Civil War, Stanton, Susan B. Anthony and Sojourner Truth were unsuccessful in their battle to have women included in the 14th Amendment giving rights to former slaves. Stanton and Anthony campaigned tirelessly for a constitutional amendment giving women the right to vote, but they died at the start of the 20th century without ever casting a legal ballot.
It wasn’t until 1920, as women became better educated and joined the workforce in increasing numbers, that the suffrage movement achieved victory with the adoption of the 19th Amendment affirming women’s constitutional right to vote. However, many laws and practices, in the workplace and in society, continued to perpetuated male privilege and women's second-class status.
Efforts to establish an Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) ensuring all U.S. citizens equal rights under the Constitution were spearheaded by Alice Paul, the head of the National Women's Party. Despite considerable opposition to many aspects of the amendment, the ERA would grant women a constitutional right to equal pay for equal work. Women and their supporters lobbied, marched, rallied, petitioned, picketed and committed acts of civil disobedience for decades until the ERA was finally passed by Congress in 1972 and sent to the states for ratification. However, to date it has not received the 38 state ratifications required to add it to the Constitution.
On the equal pay front, progress was made on the federal level when President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act of 1963 (EPA) as an amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Act. The EPA made it illegal for employers to pay unequal wages to men and women who perform substantially the same work. But while the wage gap narrowed in the ensuing years, the EPA’s equal pay goals were not completely achieved.
This eventually led to the introduction of the Paycheck Fairness Act in 1997, which aimed to strengthen penalties for equal pay violations and add workplace protections such as preventing employer retaliation against workers who disclose wage information and allowing workers to sue for punitive damages for wage discrimination. The proposed legislation has been amended and reintroduced in Congress numerous times, but it has yet to pass into law.
Fifty-five years after the passage of the Equal Pay Act, many women still earn less money than their male counterparts for the same work. If you need legal advice regarding your workplace rights or have questions regarding unlawful wage discrimination, we are here to help. Contact us confidentially at 973-509-8500 x213 or LFarber@LFarberLaw.com.
The contents of this writing are intended for general information purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion in any specific facts or circumstances.
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