Legislature sends ‘historic’ pay equity bill to Murphy


March 26, 2018



The state Legislature on Monday passed and sent to Gov. Phil Murphy a bill proponents say would take historically aggressive steps toward closing the salary gap between men and women.

Murphy, who campaigned on the need to eliminate gender wage disparity, is expected to sign the bill, NJ A1 (18R), which would prohibit unequal pay for “substantially similar work” and allow employees who have been discriminated against to receive up to six years of back pay.

If signed into law, the measure would become one of the strongest of its kind in the nation.

Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt (D-Camden), one of the sponsors, called on every female lawmaker to stand as the lower house passed the bill 74-2 with three abstentions.“This is a historic day. This is an emotional day for me,” Lampitt said. “We are making history in New Jersey and history in the United States. We are setting the bar high.”

Supporters in both chambers cheered and hugged each other as the bill passed. The moment marks the near end of a yearslong legislative fight in New Jersey for stronger laws to help women, who are said to earn about 20 percent less than their male counterparts.

Previous bills were vetoed by former Republican Gov. Chris Christie, who said there was no reason for the measure to stretch beyond the federal Lilly Ledbetter Act of 2009, S. 181 (111). That law resets the statute of limitations for filing pay discrimination lawsuits with every received paycheck, and limits back pay to two years.

Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, the sponsor in the upper house, said the bill was being moved particularly on behalf of the 440,000 households throughout the state with female breadwinners.

“We are taking a giant step forward today,” Weinberg said. “I am so happy that as we celebrate Women’s History Month to see that the women and others in the state of New Jersey will be protected.”

The bill cleared the Senate 35-0.

While business groups previously opposed the bill, many ended up changing their positions to neutral.

Christina Renna, vice president of the Chamber of Commerce Southern New Jersey, said in a statement that while her group appreciates some of the changes, it still takes issue with the fact that the burden of proof would be on the business to prove a pay differential is not based on gender.

“While the Chamber of Commerce Southern New Jersey certainly supports equal pay for women, the scope of this legislation goes beyond assuring equal pay regardless of gender,” Renna said.

Passage of the bill comes as the Senate advanced a sweeping bill that proponents claim would also help narrow the gender wage gap. The bill, NJ S559 (18R), which cleared the upper house in a 28-10 vote, would bar employers from asking about job applicants’ previous salaries.

Supporters say this would help women from continuing to be underpaid throughout their careers. Opponents argue the measure would prevent businesses from collecting data on how much to pay for positions.

The legislation is part of a movement that's already underway in other states. In November, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio signed an executive order prohibiting city agencies from asking job applicants about their salary histories, and the city of Philadelphia made a similar move last year. In 2016, Massachusetts became the first state to ban the practice statewide.

The bill generated some controversy last session, but appears to on the fast track for becoming law this spring. In his first official act as governor, Murphy signed an executive order that blocks state agencies from asking job applicants about their salary history, and called for the Legislature to send him a bill.

“This will move our state even closer to the principle of equal pay for equal work,” Murphy said at the order signing in January. "The concept is the cornerstone of our efforts to build a stronger and fairer economy of New Jersey.“

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The Chamber of Commerce Southern New Jersey is the largest business organization in Southern New Jersey. It is the first and only Chamber of Commerce in the country to have earned ISO 9001:2008 certification. The mission of the Chamber is: to provide members with opportunities to meet and do business; resources to enhance members’ position in the marketplace; and a collective voice on public policy impacting operations and profitability.

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