Chris Christie Vetoes Equal Pay Bill, Calling It ‘Business Unfriendly’

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) CREDIT: AP PHOTO/MEL EVANS
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) CREDIT: AP PHOTO/MEL EVANS

New Jersey’s lawmakers want to require employers to pay women the same as men for essentially the same work. But Gov. Chris Christie (R) thinks they went too far.

The bill that passed both chambers of the state’s legislature would have banned employers from paying women less for “substantially similar” work as men, and would only have allowed differing pay rates between genders if employers could prove it was based on something besides sex, such as education, experience, or performance. The similarity of the work would have been determined based on the required responsibilities, effort, and skills for jobs across all of an employer’s operations.

Most equal pay laws require the same pay for the exact same work. But New Jersey’s bill would have been much stronger, reaching beyond the exact same jobs to require women to be paid equally if they’re doing the same tasks in a different role. The problem is common given that when women enter a particular job, the pay drops because their work is valued less, even if it’s the same work being performed by men. For example, maids make less than janitors; high school teachers make less than college professors; women’s sports coaches tend to be paid less than men’s coaches.

This concept, known as pay equity or comparable worth, used to be popular among statehouses. By 1989, 20 states had analyzed the pay of their own workforces to see whether men and women performing essentially the same duties were being paid differently. Over a decade, they spent more than $527 million to give more than 335,000 women a raise because they were being paid less despite doing basically the same work as men, eliminating between 25 and 33 percent of the pay gap. A national law would have been one of the strongest ways to reduce the gender wage gap, getting rid of over a quarter of it. Minnesota still conducts regular pay equity assessments and has significantly narrowed its gap, and California already passed a law just like New Jersey’s.

But Christie specifically objected to this piece of the bill in his veto, calling it “nonsensical” and saying that it “makes New Jersey very business unfriendly.”

New Jersey’s bill would also have restarted the statute of limitations each time an employee was given an unfair paycheck and allowed the employee to get back pay for the entire time she was being paid less. Christie objected to that too, saying that allowing employees to claim “unlimited” back pay goes further than federal law. “There is no reason for our law to go beyond the Lilly Ledbetter Act,” he said. But while that act was important, the gender wage gap has only narrowed by two cents since it went into effect in 2009. Christie also said that allowing victims of discrimination to demand treble, or triple, damages “would make New Jersey a liberal outlier.”

While women in New Jersey make 80 percent of what men make on average, slightly more than for the country as a whole, that means they’re missing out on about $12,000 a year in average earnings. Christie has signed some equal pay bills into law, including one that bans the practice of employers keeping their employees from discussing pay with each other, but he’s vetoed a number of others, including one that would have required government contractors to report compensation information that he called “senseless bureaucracy.”