Gov. Phil Murphy signed the Diane B. Allen Equal Pay Act into law on April 24, 2018. This law made significant changes to the equal pay laws in New Jersey and provides more protection than the federal Equal Pay Act. While the federal Equal Pay Act forbids gender-based discrimination in pay for workers, the Diane B. Allen Equal Pay Act extends those protections to members of the protected classes that are protected under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination. Here is some information about this law and what you should know about the protection it provides from the New Jersey employment law attorneys at Swartz Swidler.
Overview of the Diane B. Allen Equal Pay Act
The Diane B. Allen Equal Pay Act amended the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination. Under this law, New Jersey employers are forbidden from paying employees who are members of a protected class pay rates and benefits that are less than the rates they pay to employees who are not members of the protected class for work that is substantially similar. What is substantially similar is determined by the effort, responsibility, and skill required to perform the job. New Jersey recognizes multiple protected characteristics under the law, including the following:
- National origin
- Gender identity
- Sexual orientation
- Marital status
- Military service
- Medical condition
- Genetic information
- Gender expression
People who possess these protected characteristics may not be discriminated against at work based on them, including pay discrimination. If an employer pays someone who is not a member of a protected group more than someone who is a member, the employer will need to justify the difference based on the employees’ relative experience levels and educations.
Three components of the law
The Diane B. Allen Equal Pay Act includes three primary components. Loopholes that existed in the law before its passage that allowed employers to retaliate against workers who asked about the compensation of others were closed. This means that your employer can’t retaliate against you for trying to find out how much others at your workplace are paid for similar jobs.
The second main component of the law is the provision of damages. Plaintiffs that prevail in their pay discrimination claims under this law are entitled to recover damages from the date of the first discriminatory pay period for up to six years. The damages include both wages and benefits. If the employer is found guilty, the court can order the employer to pay treble damages.
A third component of the law applies to companies with state contracts. They are required to send data about pay equity at their firms to the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development so the state can monitor its contractors to confirm that they are complying with the equal pay laws.
Important differences between the Diane B. Allen Equal Pay Act, the Federal Equal Pay Act, and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination
One key benefit of filing a claim under the Diane b. Allen Equal Pay Act is its statute of limitations. Under this law, victims have six years to file equal pay claims. By contrast, the statute of limitations for the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination and the federal Equal Pay Act is two years. For willful violations under the federal Equal Pay Act, the statute of limitations is three years.
The Diane B. Allen Equal Pay Act also expanded the equal pay protections to all protected classes. The federal Equal Pay Act only applies to sex-based pay discrimination. Under the law, a new discriminatory act occurs every time the employee receives a discriminatory paycheck or benefits. This means that an employee may have a separate cause of action for each paycheck he or she receives in which he or she is paid less than someone else who performs work that is substantially similar.
The law is silent about whether its provisions are retroactive. However, a federal court has held that it is not retroactive. This means that a plaintiff who claims that he or she suffered discriminatory pay under the act during his or her employment will only be able to seek damages back to the effective date of the law, which was July 1, 2018. The court explained that since the law was passed on April 25, 2018, but was not effective until July 1, 2018, the legislature intended to give employers a chance to comply and did not intend for the provisions to apply retroactively to the time before its effective date.
What the law means for employees
If you are a member of a protected class, your employer must pay you as much as others are paid at your workplace for substantially similar work. This means that your co-workers who are not members of a protected class cannot earn more than you when they perform substantially similar work. If you learn that you are being paid less than others in similar positions at your company, you may be entitled to file an equal pay claim against your employer. If you succeed on your claim, your attorney might help you seek triple damages for every pay period you earned less than your coworkers back to and including July of 2018.
Get help from an employee rights attorney at Swartz Swidler
The Diane B. Allen Equal Pay Act is recognized as the most expansive equal pay law in the U.S. Employees in the state who are paid less than their coworkers for similar work based on their protected characteristics may be entitled to recover substantial damages awards. If you have learned that your employer has paid you less than your similarly-situated coworkers who are not members of a protected class, schedule a consultation with Swartz Swidler today by calling us at (856) 685-7420.