New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy. Photo: Carmen Natale/ALM

Legislation aimed at eradicating discriminatory pay practices in the workplace, already approved by lawmakers in Trenton, will be signed into law later this month, Gov. Philip Murphy announced Tuesday.

Murphy, a Democrat, said he would sign the legislation in two weeks.

“It’s hard to believe that in our state, in 2018, a woman still earns, on average, just 82 cents for each dollar a male earns for similar work. And it gets even worse,” Murphy said in a statement released by the Democratic State Committee. “Black women make just 60 cents on the dollar and Latinas can’t even break 50 cents. These disparities exist regardless of industry and regardless of educational level, and it is deeply unfair.

“This systemic failure equals a loss of more than $32 billion in combined wages. These are wages New Jerseyans need for transportation, for housing, for child care, for a college education. It’s a drag on our economy, and it’s time for it to end,” Murphy continued. “I will proudly sign ‘equal pay for equal work’ into law. This was a cornerstone of our campaign last year.”

He made his announcement on Equal Pay Day, a commemoration coined by an organization called the National Committee on Pay Equity. The group, established in 1979 and based in Washington, D.C., said Equal Pay Day represents the day in the year until which most women must work in order to earn what most men earned the previous year.

Last month, A-1/S-104 passed both houses of the Legislature with only two negative votes being cast. The legislation was sponsored by Sen. Loretta Weinberg, D-Bergen, and Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt, D-Camden. Assemblymen Michael Patrick Carroll, R-Morris, and Jay Webber, R-Union, voted against the bill.

Former Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, had vetoed identical legislation, most recently in 2016. 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.

The measure, once enacted, will cap at six years the period of time for which a plaintiff could seek damages and provide for treble damages.

Christie, in his 2016 conditional-veto message, said damages should be capped at two years, and the treble damages provision removed.

“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.”

Those changes were not made. The legislation as written 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 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 to 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.