Equal-pay bill allowing six years’ back pay races toward passage
A bill promoting equal pay for women has been scaled back but still would be among the most ambitious in the country – and could make it to Gov. Phil Murphy’s desk by this time next week.
The bill would allow wage discrimination lawsuits to pursue six years of back pay, rather than the unlimited length covering a person’s full time of employment, as was the case in earlier versions of the bill.
Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt, D-Camden, said six years was chosen in part because federal law requires businesses to retain records for seven years, meaning “It’s well within the period of time where we could do a further lookback” without creating new record-keeping burdens.
Lampitt said that while the bill “won’t solve all pay discrimination problems” that it will be a significant change: “We will make headlines across the nation that we respect women, and we know what women want.”
Damages that are proven could be tripled, and the proposal would permit lawsuits by all groups of people protected by the state’s Law Against Discrimination, such as racial and ethnic minorities.
Dena Mottola Jaborska, associate director of New Jersey Citizen Action, said New Jerseyans would be able to recover more back pay residents in most states. Federal law allows two years’ back pay to be recovered.
“Six years isn’t all the years a person might be discriminated against, but it’s better than two,” Jaborska said. “And it goes a long way in the direction of being able to achieve some justice.”
Alida Kass, president and chief counsel of the New Jersey Civil Justice Institute, said the bill could negatively impact businesses in New Jersey because it would create a new standard for wage discrimination, in that it covers similar jobs requiring the same skills.
Kass said such jobs shouldn’t be subject to tripled damages, retroactive for six years, unless employers were specifically on notice about their pay practices, because otherwise they could be penalized for following the rules in place at the time.
“Not giving employers a sort of a free pass on it, but limiting the treble damages to situations where there was a willful and knowing violation,” Kass said.
With Monday’s unanimous approval by the Assembly Labor Committee, the bill has now been endorsed by three legislative committees this month without a single vote against it.
Republicans were split on earlier versions of the bill, which were vetoed by then-Gov. Chris Christie. Assemblyman Parker Space, R-Sussex, who voted against the 2016 bill, said the six-year limit on back-pay recovery is a significant change.
Assemblyman Robert Auth, R-Bergen, voted for the bill but expressed concern that without some changes suggested by Kass, it could be too punitive to businesses.
“I don’t want to bankrupt New Jersey businesses, and I don’t want to hurt workers in the workplace that deserve equal pay,” Auth said.
The bill is scheduled to be considered Thursday by the Assembly Appropriations Committee. It is then likely to be up for votes in the full Senate and Assembly next Monday, although both houses of the Legislature have also now scheduled April 12 voting sessions, as well.