In April 2018, Governor Murphy signed into law the New Jersey Equal Pay Act, also known as the Diane B. Allen Equal Pay Act (N.J.S.A. §10:5-1, et seq). The Equal Pay Act is an amendment to the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD) and expands the equal pay protections in the LAD. The Equal Pay Act prohibits employers from paying members of identified protected classes less money than employees who are not in a protected class and who have substantially similar jobs.
The Equal Pay Act covers most employers in New Jersey. This includes state, county and local government agencies (but not federal government agencies). There is no minimum-number-of-employees requirement.
Additionally, most employees can sue under the Equal Pay Act, including part-time, seasonal, temporary and per diem employees.
Under the Equal Pay Act, employers must pay employees in protected classes the same rate of pay as employees not in protected classes for work that is “substantially similar” to the work of the higher paid employee.
What Are the Protected Classes Covered by the New Jersey Equal Pay Act?
As in the LAD, the Equal Pay Act prohibits discriminatory pay practices against people with certain identifiable characteristics such as race, gender, religion and sexual orientation.
Other protected classes include those based on:
- Marital status;
- Domestic partnership status;
- Military service obligations;
- Familial status;
The New Jersey Equal Pay Act Expands the Prohibition Against Retaliation by Employers
The LAD bans employers from retaliating against employees who complain about discriminatory pay practices. Also, an employer cannot take adverse action against an employee who assists or cooperates in an investigation or testifies at a trial involving another employee’s claim of paycheck discrimination.
However, the Equal Pay Act goes further. Under the Equal Pay Act, it is illegal for an employer to retaliate against an employee for discussing or asking for information about job titles or compensation with another employee, an attorney or a government agency.
The Equal Pay Act also prohibits an employer from taking adverse action against an employee who seeks legal advice regarding pay discrimination or shares relevant information with a lawyer or government agency.
Are There Defenses for an Employer Accused of Violating the Equal Pay Act?
Yes. An employer can assert several defenses.
An employer can defeat a claim of illegal pay discrimination if the employer can show that there were legitimate reasons for the pay disparity. Those reasons include the existence of seniority or merit-based systems.
An employer can also challenge an Equal Pay Act claim by showing that the pay disparity was because of bona fide business decisions based on the education, training or job performance of the more highly paid employee(s).
While the employer may assert these and other defenses, the employer has the burden of proof.
The LAD has a two-year statute of limitations. A plaintiff suing under the Equal Pay Act must do so within two years of the last discriminatory act.
On the other hand, the Equal Pay Act has a six-year “lookback” provision. This provision is available to an Equal Pay Act plaintiff so long as the discriminatory pay practices were ongoing, and the last discriminatory act occurred within two years prior to the filing of the lawsuit.
What Damages Can an Equal Pay Act Plaintiff Collect?
In an action under the Equal Pay Act, a plaintiff can seek:
- Lost wages and benefits;
- Hiring, reinstatement, or promotion with back pay and interest;
- Damages for emotional distress;
- Attorneys’ fees and court costs; and
- Punitive damages.
New Jersey Equal Pay Lawyers
If your employer has illegally discriminated against you by not paying you at or near the rate of other similarly situated employees, and you are in a recognized protected class, you may have grounds to seek compensation from your employer. The New Jersey equal pay attorneys at Schiller, Pittenger & Galvin, PC, will fight to secure your rights and get you the pay you deserve. Contact the experienced equal pay attorneys at the firm’s Scotch Plains office at 908-490-0444 or here to schedule an appointment.