Undoing Christie’s veto, Murphy signs new equal-pay law

April 24, 2018
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, right, applauds Lilly Ledbetter before signing into law a measure that strengthens New Jersey's law against discrimination and aims to quash pay disparities between men and women who do the same work, Tuesday, April 24, 2018, in Trenton, N.J. Ledbetter won a historic discrimination case against Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company. Congress passed a fair pay act in her name, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Erasing former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s vetoes, Phil Murphy signed into law a measure that strengthens the state’s laws against discrimination and aims to quash pay disparities between men and women who do the same work.

Murphy signed the bill, named after a former GOP state senator and one-time TV anchor who found out she was paid less than her male counterparts, Tuesday in Trenton.

On the stage with him and legislative leaders who pushed for the bill that Christie vetoed was Lilly Ledbetter, the namesake of federal equal-pay legislation.

Ledbetter spoke briefly before Murphy signed the legislation and got a standing ovation from the crowd, which included lawmakers and advocates. She praised the “many women” who pushed for the new law, but singled out men, too.

“You see, you guys get it now. You want us women to earn equal pay because you can help us spend it,” she said. “That’s what my son-in-law said. He said more power to your daughter. I like it she’s making more money. I’ll help her spend it.”

Murphy hailed the legislation as the “most sweeping equal pay legislation in America” and is casting the new law as part of fulfilling his promise to push the state in a more progressive direction. Murphy took over from Christie in January and is approaching his 100-day mark in office this week.

“Closing the wage gap and ensuring that the only consideration literally the only consideration for deciding an employees pay is the job she was hired to do is not just a matter of fairness. But have no doubt it will also make our economy stronger,” he said.

Dana Britton, the director of Rutgers’ Center for Women and Work, pointed to Census data from 2016 that show New Jersey women’s median earnings for full-time, year-round work were roughly 81 percent of what men brought home.

The legislation changes New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination to allow those who are seeking damages two receive back pay for up to six years, instead of the current two-year window. The bill also permits discriminated-against workers to get triple damages.

“It’s a big deal,” said Anthony Rainone, a labor attorney at the Brach Eichler firm. “There’s no question if businesses were only half-heartedly addressing (discrimination) before, this bill should bring them in line.”

Christie rejected the similar bills in two previous legislative sessions, arguing that the state’s anti-discrimination law and the 2009 Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act covered anti-discriminatory practices.

“Compensation discrimination on the basis of gender is illegal and has no place in our modern workforce or our State,” he wrote.

A previous version of the bill allowed for unlimited back pay instead of the six-year window provided for under the new law that Murphy signed.

The law also makes it unlawful for employers to discriminate against those protected by current law by paying them less for substantially similar work than those who are not. Current law prevents discrimination on a number of bases, including race, sex and sexual orientation.

The legislation also would bar employer reprisals on workers who disclose information about their jobs, including compensation.

Under the bill, employers entering state contracts also would have to disclose employee information to the state.

The legislation passed with no opposition in the Democrat-controlled Senate and with only two no votes in the Assembly, which Democrats also control.

The New Jersey law is named after former Republican state Sen. Diane Allen, who was also a Philadelphia-area television broadcaster. Allen has said she discovered in 1996 that she was being paid substantially less than a male co-anchor.

On Tuesday, Murphy invited Allen to the platform where he signed the bill and handed her one of the pens he used.

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