Seven years since the Lilly Ledbetter Act prohibited gender-based wage discrimination, women in the United States still make only 79 cents for every dollar a man makes. The National Women’s Law Center says in New Jersey, on average, women make barely over 80 cents on the dollar. A bill to strengthen laws against wage discrimination has sailed through the state Legislature, in spite of opposition from the New Jersey Business and Industry Association. NJTV News Anchor Mary Alice Williams asked one of the bill’s sponsors, Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, to explain how it further protects women.
Williams: Break down for me the components of your bill. How does it prevent wage discrimination?
Huttle: Very simple, equal pay for equal work. And what it does is it amends the law against age discrimination act. It modified it so employees, if they are discriminated against by gender or by any other factors, they’re able to now file a complaint without any retribution. And quite frankly the employers, obviously, cannot discriminate against gender or any other, again, factors. It’s based on seniority or merit, and that’s how it should be. You know, we’ve come such a long way from the first Equal Pay Act and of course Obama signing the Lilly Ledbetter Restoration Fair Pay Act. However when you look at women today for the same job making 80 cents on the dollar as their male counterparts, it’s discouraging and it’s absurd.
Williams: How does this extend the Lilly Ledbetter Act in this day?
Huttle: What this does is any employers that do business with the state would have to document and file in the Labor and Workforce Development is transparent in what everyone is making and how it’s basing the salaries and therefore any employee then will have that information and go to the Civil Liberties Union and find that information out.
Williams: Are you saying that all salaries will be made public because that has never happened?
Huttle: Well, it would be transparent and documented. Names of course would be excluded, but they will see what their counterparts and what those titles and salaries are, yes. And it’s funny because we talk about this today in the workplace. Let’s talk about sports, what just came out in the last day or two with the women’s soccer team. That is unbelievable to me. The women’s soccer team has won the last three World Cups. They’ve made $2 million and the men’s team, they didn’t even reach the finals and they’re making $9 million. How do you account for a $7 million discrepancy? So again, equal pay, equal goal there as well.
Williams: Why are we still talking about this? It’s been decades and decades.
Huttle: If we can do something with the Equal Pay and Equal Fairness Act and have things transparent and change the culture and have men and women equal, equal jobs, I think we can start to have a discussion and change it.
Williams: Is there any merit to the New Jersey Business and Industry Association’s argument that ending a cap on two years to investigate wage discrimination would place a burden on companies who would have to store those records?
Huttle: No, absolutely not, because quite frankly that’s fair and that allows the person to go back from when they were hired to gain access and I would leave that up to the courts to decide, but at least they have now they can access those complaints or they can file those complaints without any retribution or fear of being fired.
Williams: Your bill has passed both houses of the Legislature.
Huttle: Yes, just waiting for the governor to make sure that he supports gender parity.
Williams: Is he going to sign it?
Huttle: Let’s see and let’s ask him.
Williams: I’m going to change the subject for a minute. You’ve also introduced a bill that would include LGBT history into the curriculum.
Huttle: Age appropriate as well. You know, it’s funny, it’s been on national news now since the governor of North Carolina has prohibited restrooms to transgenders and to me the school policies here now are catching on and I think that the more education, it’s really the fear of the unknown for some people. If we continue to educate our students and parents, I think it’s a very simple solution. I mean, the transgender policy resonates well with students. I think the primary goal here is to protect the students and make them feel as comfortable as possible.
Williams: But you can legalize something. You can codify something into law, but you can’t legislate attitudes.
Huttle: Absolutely not, but you can educate and inform students about the LGBT history, about the strides we’ve made. They can become tolerant and sensitive and informed and educated, so I do believe that people that may think that it’s a different type of bathroom, a bathroom is a bathroom. So it’s the fear of the unknown for some so the education information to me I would be a tool in defending that. And I think most policies today, or most school districts today, have implemented some policies to be sensitive and tolerant to the students and I think hopefully when you have these laws. Again you can’t legislate morality, but you can start to change the conversation and the culture with it.