New Jersey Governor Chris Christie yesterday blocked a bill aimed at closing the gender wage gap in the state, calling the legislation “business unfriendly.”
The bill, S. 992, would have prohibited an employer from compensating one sex—in either wages or benefits—less than the other for doing “substantially similar work.” Whether the work was “substantially similar” would be determined by the level of skill, effort, and responsibility the job required. Employers could still compensate employees differently, but they would have to show that any differences were based on “bona fide factors other than sex, such as training, education or experience, or the quantity or quality of production.” The legislation further specified that bona fide factors had to be job-related and based on business necessity and could not perpetuate sex-based differentials in compensation.
Women in New Jersey, on average, are paid only 80 percent of what men make, slightly more than women nationwide, who are paid 79 percent. Both figures, however, are based on earnings, and do not factor in discrepancies in benefits.
The bill, which passed in both the state Assembly and the state Senate, would have offered stronger protections for workers than federal legislation. Unlike equal pay bills, which focus on equal work, the New Jersey bill promoted pay equity, a concept meant to combat gender-based discrimination that leads to women being clustered into certain jobs (that generally pay less) and men into others, even though those jobs may be substantially equivalent.
“The governor’s veto of this legislation is wrong,” said New Jersey Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, the bill’s sponsor. “This legislation would have required employers to justify why a woman is not paid the same as a man for the same work, eliminating loopholes that allow inequities to persist if employees have different job titles.”
Governor Christie, in his conditional veto message, suggested that the bill would prohibit the courts from engaging in “an intensive fact-based evaluation of the workplace and positions,” a claim that belies the fact-intensive factors test. Christie also opposed granting employees who had faced discrimination more than two years of back pay and called a provision that would require state contractors to submit data to state officials on compensation by gender, race, and job title “outrageous bureaucratic red tape creation.” Weinberg defended the data collection, noting that “the first step toward determining inequity is transparency.”
In a statement issued after the Governor’s conditional veto, Weinberg indicated that she would attempt to work with the Governor’s chief counsel to see whether any agreement could be made for a pay equity bill going forward. Christie has previously blocked attempts to close the wage gap, though in 2013 he signed into law a state bill that would prohibit employers from retaliating against employees who discuss their pay.