While Murphy celebrated the key legislative victory on his 99th day in office, he was largely upstaged by former Republican state Sen. Diane Allen, whom the New Jersey legislation was named after, and Alabama’s Lilly Ledbetter, the namesake of the federal equal pay law that New Jersey aimed to surpass.
TRENTON — Gov. Phil Murphy made history Tuesday as he signed into law sweeping equal pay legislation described as the strongest in the United States and an example for the rest of the nation on how to close pay disparities.
But while Murphy celebrated the key legislative victory on his 99th day in office, he was largely upstaged by former Republican state Sen. Diane Allen, whom the New Jersey legislation was named after, and Alabama’s Lilly Ledbetter, the namesake of the federal equal pay law that New Jersey aimed to surpass.
Both women were in attendance at Murphy’s bill signing ceremony at the Trenton War Memorial and received standing applause for their tireless advocacy on the issue.
Ledbetter, 79, was a longtime executive with Goodyear who sued for discrimination after learning near her retirement that three men who performed the same job she did received higher pay. She became the inspiration for the federal equal pay law, but never benefited from the legislation herself.
She had the honor of introducing Murphy, but quickly drew loud and prolonged cheers and applause after she stood at the podium and said: “I’m Lilly Ledbetter.”
“You know what that means,” she said, as the ovation continued. “That means equal pay for equal work for women and their families.”
“I’m so overwhelmed to be here and be a part of this,” Ledbetter said, before predicting the measure would change the state and influence the nation.
“My case was just the tip of the iceberg and I lost my battle when we got to the Supreme Court, but I feel like I won the war,” she said, adding that a year from now residents will remember New Jersey’s Diane Allen Equal Pay Act.
The new law amends the state’s discrimination law to expressly prohibit unequal pay for “substantially similar work” and it also extends the statute of limitations for unequal-pay claims to six years — four years more than the Ledbetter federal law — and boosts the potential penalties.
The law also prohibits employers from taking reprisals against employees for disclosing information about their pay, and would require employers contracting with the state to provide information about their employees, including their gender, race, job title and compensation.
Murphy, who promised to sign equal pay legislation during his campaign for governor, said the legislation would set a “standard” as the strongest equal pay law in the nation.
“For those who thought they could get away with paying a woman less just because they could, today is your wake-up call,” Murphy said.
The governor also hailed Allen, the former television news anchor who represented Burlington County’s 7th Legislative District for more than two decades and who championed the equal pay legislation, which was twice vetoed by Murphy’s predecessor, Republican Chris Christie.
Allen revealed Tuesday that one of the reasons she opted not to run for re-election last year was so she could focus on getting the bill approved and signed into law. And while the legislation didn’t reach that finish line before her retirement, the bill’s Democratic sponsors, Sen. Loretta Weinberg, D-37th of Teaneck, and Assemblywoman Pam Lampitt, D-6th of Cherry Hill, said they wanted to name the measure after her in recognition of her work and legacy.
“Senator today also cements your legacy as a lawmaker who worked across the aisle to do the right things for our state,” Murphy said, drawing more applause.
Allen, who experienced discrimination during her journalism career, said she was overjoyed to see the bill signed into law and honored her former colleagues chose to attach her name to it.
“I can’t think of a better bill to hold my name. This is so important to me to see women move forward,” Allen said, adding that addressing inequity was what inspired her to run for office in the first place.
“I have always fought inequity. I ran for office the first time 22 years ago because i believed things should be on an equal keel and it clearly wasn’t. I was able to change divorce law and change things with domestic violence. We need to make everything equal. This bill makes a huge difference,” she said.
Lampitt and Weinberg also praised Allen, Ledbetter and the other advocates who fought tirelessly for the legislation’s passage.
“Activism can pay off,” Weinberg said. “If you’re in the right Legislature, with the right leaders and the right governor in office.”
Lampitt cited the recent 60 Minutes story about equal pay and Salesforce, a national tech company that spent $3 million on pay raises for its women employees after discovering they were underpaid compared to their male counterparts. She said the company is setting an example for other businesses and shows that equal pay protections aren’t anti-business.
“We welcome any business that wants to set the standard just like Salesforce has done,” Lampitt said.