New Jersey Equal Pay Attorneys
Wage Discrimination in New Jersey
Why Is There a Lingering Wage Gap in New Jersey?
Over the years, various theories have come and gone as to why women are paid less than men. For example, in the past, many people (mostly men) argued that women often quit work to raise children. That lack of experience, they insisted, explained the wage gap. But not all women leave the workforce to have children. Furthermore, the ones that do often only take a few months off, at most.
The current thinking, which explains New Jersey Executive Order No. 1 and some similar efforts, focuses on salary history. Through no fault of their own, many women lack effective salary negotiating skills early in their careers. That’s especially true if there are additional racial or cultural barriers or stereotypes. As a result, entry-level women often receive less money than entry-level men.
Over time, there is a multiplying effect. Assume John and Sarah work in basically the same position for the exact same employer. John earns $1,000 and Sarah earns $900. They each get three 10 percent raises. John’s salary goes from $1,000 to $1,100 to $1,210; Sarah’s salary goes from $900 to $990 to $1,090.
When they leave the company, potential employers conclude that Sarah is not as good a worker as John. Therefore, they pay her less, and the cycle continues.
Can I Sue My New Jersey Employer?
Gender-based pay discrimination claims in New Jersey usually involve either the federal Equal Pay Act, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, or the New Jersey Equal Pay Act. The choice of statutory authority has a considerable bearing on the case.
All three of these laws have essentially the same elements. To establish a preliminary claim for relief, the plaintiff must show:
- Covered Employer: Some laws only apply to companies over a certain size. Fifty workers is a very common cutoff. The nature of the workers matters as well. No one is exactly sure whether independent contractors and paid family members really count as “workers” in this context.
- Substantially Similar: New Jersey courts look beyond job titles to determine if two positions are more or less the same. Job duties, both the formal description and the informal responsibilities, are the biggest factor. Courts may also consider geographic location. For example, it may be acceptable to pay remote workers less than onsite workers.
- Lower Gender-Based Pay: A straightforward statistical analysis usually suffices. The plaintiff need not prove that all men received more money than all The proof only applies to the parties in the lawsuit.
If the plaintiff does not have at least some evidence on all these points, a judge may throw it out of court after a motion to dismiss or a motion for summary judgement.
The NJEPA has two key advantages. First, the plaintiff need only prove that she received less money than one male employee. That’s easier to prove, and requires less effort, than a general statistical comparison. Second, the New Jersey Equal Pay Act contains some very strong anti-retaliation provisions.
The federal Equal Pay Act does not require claimants to file complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission before they file civil lawsuits. Moreover, the statute of limitations is quite long in EPA cases (two years for non-willful violations and three years is the violation was willful). However, damages are usually limited to the lost wages and any other direct economic losses.
Title VII claimants are entitled to damages for pain and suffering. In many cases, these damages could be substantial. Furthermore, under the Civil Rights Act, plaintiffs need only prove discrimination as opposed to intentional discrimination. The biggest drawback is the statute of limitations. After the EEOC issues a right to sue letter, workers have only 180 days to file a claim.
What Are Some Possible Defenses in New Jersey?
Employers are quick to point out certain sections of the Congressional Record where lawmakers clearly stated that pay discrimination actions should involve intentional discrimination, in most cases. Many New Jersey judges place a great deal of stock in legislative intent. Therefore, this presumption is hard to overcome. Fortunately, it only applies in a few cases.
A merit-based compensation system is probably the most common defense. Most statutes do not define this phrase. So, New Jersey courts have generally approved any structured system which uses predetermined criteria. The same rules must apply to all workers.
Furthermore, courts have also generally held that the test is not outcome-determinative. In other words, a merit system is not illegal just because it causes gender pay discrepancy. There must be at least some discriminatory intent.
Plaintiffs cannot use indirect evidence to establish intent. Assume a company only promotes men or only allows women to work in certain positions. That discrimination, while illegal, is irrelevant for equal pay purposes. Particularly in Title VII cases, many courts almost require a “smoking gun” to find discrimination in these matters.
Finally, knowledge of inequity is not enough. Even if the employer knows that its pay system is gender biased, the plaintiff may not have a valid claim. In one famous case, the Supreme Court ruled that a system that directed 97 percent of benefits to men was not discriminatory.