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equal pay, discrimination (Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

We are staunch supporters of equal pay for equal work, as we believe every right-minded person should be. But New Jersey’s recently enacted Diane B. Allen Equal Pay Act is something entirely different. Although the title refers to “equal pay,” in fact the statute calls for equal pay for “substantially similar” work; an entirely new standard that we fear will bestow benefits largely on the lawyers litigating its meaning.

When the federal Equal Pay Act and New Jersey’s original Equal Pay Act were enacted, they were aimed at an invidious problem of a different time. Women working on assembly lines, as clerks, as lawyers, were paid less than men doing precisely the same jobs, for clearly discriminatory reasons such as the then-common justification that the men had families to support. As time went by and standards evolved, the concept of “equal” work expanded, but “equal” continued to be the touchstone. Efforts to expand pay equity to the “comparable worth” of jobs were rejected by both elected officials and the courts.

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