New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed a sweeping pay equity bill on Tuesday that advocates called the nation’s toughest law against workplace discrimination.
The measure (A1/S104) bans unequal pay for “substantially similar work” and allows victims of discrimination to sue for up to six years of back pay. Proven monetary damages will be triple the amount lost by the worker.
“For those who thought they could get away with paying a woman less just because they could, today is your wake-up call,” Murphy said.
The Democratic governor signed the bill on his 99th day in office during a choreographed bill signing ceremony that featured supporters, lawmakers and Lilly Ledbetter, whose employment discrimination case ultimately led to Congress passing federal equal pay legislation in 2009.
“This bill that’s being signed and passed today will mean so much more than a signature on a piece of paper,” she said. “It means that women and minorities can earn the rightful money that they’re really earning and entitled to under the law.”
Women in New Jersey earn roughly 81 cents for every dollar a man makes, according to the National Women’s Law Center. Women working full-time in the state earn roughly $50,000, or $11,737 less than the median annual salary for a man, according to the governor’s office.
The Democrat-controlled legislature passed similar pay equity bills three times during former Gov. Chris Christie’s tenure, but the Republican governor vetoed them all.
“This is a fulfillment of a dream that New Jersey would have the strongest pay equity bill in the nation,” said Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen), who sponsored the bill.
Also speaking during the hour-long event were Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt (D-Camden)—the primary Assembly sponsor—Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver, Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester) and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-Middlesex).
The New Jersey law is among the strongest of its kind because it has several tools to close the gender wage gap, said Andrea Johnson, senior counsel for state policy at the National Women’s Law Center. The treble damages “incentivize employers to stop pay discrimination before it starts,” Johnson said, while the six years of back pay is three times longer the federal law’s two-year cap.
The bill also requires government contractors to report their workers’ compensation and demographics.
Michele Siekerka, president and chief executive of the New Jersey Business and Industry Association, said lawmakers initially proposed an unlimited look-back period for remedies before settling on a six-year window for back pay.
“We appreciate the changes made by the bill’s sponsor incorporating less onerous reporting requirements for public contractors and capping the look-back period to six years, rather than the decades originally sought,” she said in a statement. “However, the reasons why pay equity exists in some instances are very complex and are void of discriminatory reasons. As such, we must be mindful of aggressive legal efforts to capitalize on the six-year look-back period, without merit, which will come at great expense to unsuspecting businesses.”
The new law is named after former Republican state Sen. Diane Allen, who tried to get similar bills passed during Christie’s tenure. She faced wage discrimination as a television reporter.
New Jersey’s Diane B. Allen Equal Pay Act becomes effective July 1.