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New Jersey Employment and Civil Rights Trial Attorney Discusses Governor Christie Veto of Bills Protecting Worker's Rights

Or. . .Governor Christie has a patchy record on protecting worker's rights.

I can't deny that Governor Christie has signed into law certain protections for workers. He signed, for example, an amendment to New Jersey's Law Against Discrimination which clearly advanced protection for pregnant women, a protection that had only been implied by the LAD prior to that amendment.

On other hand, two bills that were advanced for the benefit of workers' rights were not signed by the Governor. The first of these was S-783, the "Unfair Wage Recovery Act," which would have brought the State into compliance with the "Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009," federal legislation that corrected an oversight in the fair pay laws. The federal legislation determined that an illegal act of discrimination occurs each time an employee is paid an unfair amount of money. In effect, each time there's a violation, the two-year statute of limitations would be "restarted" and allow the worker to sue.

Governor Christie "conditionally" vetoed S-783, because he said that the statute should have included language barring plaintiffs from seeking damages from "any discriminatory pay practice that occurred more than two years before the filing of the complaint."

Look, I get what he's saying. He's saying that if the statute of limitations restarts in accordance with the federal statute, then New Jersey should do no more than the federal legislation did. On one level, that makes sense, no doubt to his supporters and to "business owners." On the other hand, I'm a business owner. On the other other hand, I don't violate fair pay laws, so I don't have to worry about this. The only people who have to worry about a bill like this are the people who violate or plan to violate fair pay laws.

There's nothing wrong with New Jersey being at least in compliance with the federal legislation, but New Jersey has a long history, when it comes to workers' right and civil rights, of being ahead of federal legislation. Governor Christie, on the other hand, seems to feel that New Jersey should do only what's necessary to stay in lockstep with federal legislation, and that's troubling, because it runs counter to New Jersey's history.

When the federal civil rights statute didn't offer protection to sexual minorities, New Jersey's Law Against Discrimination did. When the federal legislation had a higher standard to meet for workplace harassment, New Jersey's standard was more fair. When the federal standard placed caps and limits on recovery, New Jersey didn't.

Like I said, on the one hand, I understand that if all Governor Christie is about is making sure that New Jersey does no more than federal law, his veto makes sense, yet it's not right. People should be able to collect for the entirety of their damages under the doctrine of "continuing violation," an equitable doctrine that already exists under New Jersey law.

Women are still being paid fewer cents on the dollar than men to do the same job. This bill, including the better protection under state law than federal law, should have been passed. Senator Loretta Weinberg and Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt both sponsored legislation in the assembly and the senate which would have repaired the unfairness represented by historic and long running wage payment violations in a way that New Jersey typically makes such fixes.

Bad job, Guv. Strike one.

The other bill vetoed by Governor Christie was S-1038, the "Wage Transparency Act," which would have required public contractors to report to the Department of Labor and Workforce Development salary and wage information by gender, race and job title, this disclosure process being necessary to expose disparities.

In a far more typical comment for or Christie, he said that this would be "duplicative, as businesses that do business with the State already have to support such data."

Of course, that's not true; it's only true from one perspective. In addition, Christie is all about "costs." One assumes from hearing his quotes that he would be fine with going back to the days of child labor because it's less "costly" to employ children than it is adults. At a certain point, "costs" become secondary to civil liberties, civil rights and the rights of workers.

Ultimately, the legislature can do anything it wants, but if the Governor decides to kibosh legislation meant to advance workers' rights, then it's the Governor who is solely responsible for holding back progressive workers' rights in New Jersey.

Strike two.

When will strike three be? Who knows? Stay tuned.

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