Across the United States, women have historically been paid less than their male counterparts for performing the same exact work. By all estimates, that disparity has amounted to a roughly 80 percent shortfall for women, and that shortfall follows them throughout their careers: even as a woman advances, in each job interview where men and women are asked for their salary histories, the lower pay scale is perpetuated. That is why more and more states across the country are passing pay equity laws. These laws introduce measures ranging from prohibiting potential employers from inquiring about compensation history to making it illegal to pay employees of any protected class at a lower payrate than others who do similar work, regardless of gender. New Jersey has always led the way in the passage of anti-discrimination laws, including these newest laws addressing pay equity.
As we move into 2019, it is anticipated that there will be a surge in two types of activities in New Jersey: one will be a rapid review of current pay practices on the part of employers anxious to protect themselves from anti-discrimination lawsuits. The other will be a surge in claims filed by women emboldened to claim the compensation to which they are entitled. Though word may not yet have spread to all employees, it is expected that several landmark cases will make their way into the media, and that expanded attention is likely to embolden additional victims to step forward.
Court cases that began in state courts around the country are scheduled to be heard in the U.S. Supreme Court during 2019, including an equal pay decision being appealed by a California school district. The district is fighting against a law that bars the use of prior salary to base wage offers on, but courts throughout the country have generally refused to set aside these new laws, electing instead to support gender pay equality in both individual claims and class action lawsuits. Judges have been making decisions designed to encourage employers to provide compensation based on the value of the job rather than on the person who they are hiring to fill it.
One of the first gender pay discrimination cases being heard in New Jersey in 2019 has been filed against the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office, which has been accused by two former female employees and one current employee of pay disparities between men and women, as well as gender discrimination and retaliation. The women involved are a former Assistant Prosecutor, a former investigator and a current assistant prosecutor, all of whom are accusing the prosecutor of having demoted high-ranking women in the office, blocking their promotions and paying them less than male counterparts for performing the same work duties. The claim also cites a “toxic” culture in which men were favored over women, sexual harassment and gender discrimination were tolerated, and retaliation for reporting of these unlawful activities was common. The women are seeking compensatory damages for financial losses, emotional stress, humiliation and indignity, all repercussions that are common among those who are being treated unfairly or in a discriminating way in the workplace.