Equal pay: Laws are great. Respect is better

State Sen. Loretta Weinberg.

Gov. Phil Murphy deserves praise for his commitment to closing the gender wage gap in New Jersey and his pledge to sign the Diane B. Allen Equal Pay Act. But Murphy also deserves praise for setting the kind of example that’s every bit as important as a new law, if not more important.

The governor chose not to sign the bill on Equal Pay Day last week, which would have been a natural PR move. Instead, he tweeted that he would sign the legislation on April 24.

Why? Well, sources told The Star-Ledger that Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-Teaneck) — who has fought for this legislation for years — was on vacation and wouldn’t be in New Jersey on Equal Pay Day. And Murphy didn’t want to sign it without her there.

So why the delay? In a word, respect.

That’s what Murphy showed Weinberg in particular and women in general.

And respect is what this issue is really about.

As Michellene Davis, president of Executive Women of New Jersey, pointed out in a statement praising Murphy’s announcement, “Ensuring that women receive equal pay for equal work should not be controversial, nor should it be negotiable.”


Yet the National Partnership for Women and Families says full-time female employees in New Jersey are, on average, paid just 81 cents for every dollar paid to a man. That adds up to a yearly pay difference of $11,737 — a gender pay gap that costs New Jersey women nearly $34 billion a year. And black women in New Jersey make just 57 cents and Latina women just 42 cents for every dollar paid to white men, the group says.

There’s no remotely legitimate basis for paying women less for the same work men do. It’s disrespect. It’s unacceptable. And the Diane B. Allen Equal Pay Act will make it far more expensive for companies to do it.

The bill Murphy will sign into law will make it an unlawful employment practice to pay any employee protected by the state Law Against Discrimination less than other workers “for substantially similar work, when viewed as a composite of skill, effort and responsibility.” Pay differences for similar work are allowed only if “based on legitimate, bona fide factors other than sex … such as training, education, experience, or the quantity or quality of production,” the bill says.

The bill also prohibits employers from taking reprisals against employees for discussing their pay with others — and provides for three-fold monetary damages for any violation and allows employees to obtain relief for up to six years of discriminatory pay. Davis called the bill “one of the most far-reaching attempts to close the pay gap in the country.”

And that’s great. But, unfortunately, a law can only do so much.

You can’t legislate respect. You can’t, in the end, require it. You must teach it. And that’s a continuing job for all of us. This new law is important — but it’s the easy part.