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Industry groups slam wage-equality bills as duplicative, harmful to economy

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While legislators today called on Gov. Chris Christie to support bills that would narrow the wage gap between women and men, employer groups are voicing concerns about the legislation's duplicative nature and legal repercussions.

The four-bill package, sponsored by Assemblywoman Pamela R. Lampitt (D-Voorhees), chairwoman of the Assembly Women and Children Committee, would require employers to notify workers about their right for gender pay equity; allow employees to share pay information with others without punishment; make public contractors report information about their employees' pay to the state; and oblige employers to repay employees for discriminatory pay differentials with no statute of limitations, regardless of when the initial biased decision took place. The bills recently passed the Assembly, and companion legislation has been introduced in the Senate.

In his testimony to the Assembly Women and Children Committee, Employers Association of New Jersey president and general counsel John Sarno argued that existing federal and state law — including the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination and the New Jersey Conscientious Employee Protection Act — already prohibit unequal pay on the basis of gender, and the new bills "present serious and complex obstacles to their validity and enforceability."

"Wage information, under normal circumstances, is proprietary information and company property," Sarno said. "To require disclosure, or the taking of that property, would be legally improper. It would lead to a litigation nightmare for businesses."

According to Sarno, disparities in workers' pay are more complex than a difference in gender, noting that a "lay person could see a disparity, but it could have nondiscriminatory reasons." For example, in his testimony, Sarno said it is not unlawful for an employer to raise the salary of a job in order to lure a male employee from another company, even if it is higher than the salary of a woman employee performing the same work.

Though the New Jersey Business and Industry Association has voiced concern about the bills' duplication with existing requirements, in light of the legislation's progress, the group has urged its members to closely evaluate their workers' titles, positions and salaries.

"We want our employers to train their managers to understand how to evaluate employees and revamp their job descriptions," said Stefanie Riehl, assistant vice president of the NJBIA. "In this economy, titles are not what they once were. Just because someone has a better title, it's not always the case that they have a better position and salary."

According to Lampitt, working women have been "cheated out of hundreds of thousands of dollars," noting a $15.8 billion annual wage gap in the state, which she said could be invested back into the economy.

But Sarno said strengthening equal wage laws would have a negative economic impact on New Jersey, noting that employment-related litigation — including unequal pay — increases the costs of hiring and firing, which he said has suppressed hiring and wage growth for decades.

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