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New Jersey now has toughest equal pay law in the country

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed into law a measure that aims to end pay disparities between men and women who do the same work on Tuesday.

In the state, women on average are paid less than men, about 80 cents on the dollar. For women of color, that gap is even more grim: black women on average earn 60 cents for every dollar a man earns and for Latinas that statistic drops to just 43 cents.

"One of my first jobs I was hired, the man was hired at the same time. He was given almost twice what I was being given,” retired State Senator Diane Allen (R-Burlington), for whom New Jersey’s new equal pay law is named, said. "I asked 'why?' They said, 'well he has a family to support.’”

In 1994, Allen quit her job as a television news anchor after filing wage discrimination complaints. She then took up the cause in the state senate. She retired without a bill getting signed. Governor Chris Christie repeatedly vetoed the legislation, fearing it would hurt New Jersey’s economy.

In the midst of the 2008 financial crisis, Lilly Ledbetter of Alabama took her wage discrimination suit all the way to the Supreme Court. A federal law aimed at equal pay for women was passed in 2009 that bears her name.

"I worked for Goodyear Tire and Rubber for 20 years,” she said. "And found out near retirement that I was being short-changed by almost 40 percent compared to my male counterparts.”

New Jersey’s law now surpasses the federal standard.

This act, signed before a room filled with working women, makes:
- equal pay for equal work, the law of the land;
- employers cannot cut a mans wages to make them equal to their female or minority counterparts;
- and those seeking legal damages can now recoup up to 6-years of backpay, instead of the federal 2-year window.

New Jersey’s Business and Industry Association stated they support this law's intent but stated:

"As such, we must be mindful of aggressive legal efforts to capitalize on the six-year lookback period, without merit, which will come at great expense to unsuspecting businesses."

The law takes effect on July 1.