A New Jersey legislative committee on Monday recommended passage of a bill aimed at policing discriminatory pay practices in the workplace.
The Assembly Labor Committee’s move comes less than two weeks after a state Senate committee approved an identical version of the bill.
Both houses are expected to hold final votes on the legislation soon, sending it to Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy.
Although Murphy has repeatedly signaled his support for equal pay legislation, his staff said he does not comment on bills until they reach his desk.
Former Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, had vetoed identical legislation, most recently in 2016. That conditional veto marked the third time Christie returned the legislation, deeming its remediation terms too broad.
Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt, the sponsor of the Assembly bill (A-1), said women in the state earn, over their careers, more than $400,000 less than their male counterparts.
“But they’re not told when they go to college that [jobs] can pay $20,000 or $30,000 less,” Lampitt said Monday.
She noted that, among the licensed professions, women in the legal and medical fields face the most pay disparity.
The only opposition testimony came from Alida Kass, the president and chief counsel of the New Jersey Civil Justice Institute, a tort reform organization. She said the treble damages option should be eliminated and that the bill’s retroactive application be re-examined, since there may have been employers who believed they “had a good-faith belief they were complying with the law.”
During the Christie administration, legislators repeatedly passed the bill, modeled after the federal Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, which made it easier to bring pay-discrimination suits by allowing the statute of limitations to reset with the issuance of every offending paycheck.
An amended version of the proposed state law would cap at six years the period of time for which a plaintiff could seek damages. The plaintiff would be allowed to seek treble damages, however, under the amended version.
Christie, in his 2016 conditional-veto message, said damages should be capped at two years.
“As I expressed previously when a similar provision reached my desk, unlimited back pay for wage discrimination clearly departs from well-established law,” Christie said at the time. “There is no reason for our law to go beyond the Lilly Ledbetter Act; the sponsors should not object to matching the federal law they so often cite as a model.”
Christie also urged lawmakers to remove language allowing for treble damages.
The legislation would:
- Prohibit unequal pay for “substantially similar” work, under the Law Against Discrimination. The legislation would make it unlawful for an employer to pay a rate of compensation, including benefits, to an employee of one sex less than the rate paid to an employee of the other sex for substantially similar work when viewed as a composite of skill, effort and responsibility, unless specific conditions apply.
- Require a different rate of compensation be justified by factors other than sex. The bill would permit an employer to pay a different rate of compensation if the employer demonstrates that the differential is made due to a seniority system, 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. The bill would require 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 on legitimate business necessities.
- Restart the statute of limitations for each instance of discrimination. The bill would mandate that a discriminatory compensation decision or other employment practice that is unlawful 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 discrimination, reflecting the state Supreme Court’s interpretation of wage discrimination under the LAD as well as language in the Ledbetter Act. In addition, the bill would provide 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. This provision would be stronger than the federal Ledbetter act, which has a two-year cap on back pay.
- Prohibit employer retaliation against an employee for disclosing or discussing compensation. Employers would not be allowed not take reprisals against an employee for requesting, disclosing or discussing information about the job title, occupational category, and rate of compensation of any employees or former employees. It would prohibit an employer from requiring an employee or prospective employee to forgo rights to make, discuss, or request those disclosures.
- Require transparency in state contracting. The bill requires contractors to provide information on gender, race, job title, occupational category and compensation, and to report certain changes during the course of the contract; information must be filed with the labor commissioner and the Division of Civil Rights. The bill requires disclosure to employees and their authorized representatives on request.