Below are remarks from Prof. Deepa Kumar, one of the plaintiffs in a pay equity lawsuit, at a December 8 press conference. She is a Professor of Journalism and Media Studies in the School of Communication and Information, with 16 years of teaching at Rutgers University.
I’m extremely grateful to Senator Loretta Weinberg, both for being the powerhouse behind the Diane B. Allen Equal Pay Act passed in 2018 and for her support for the five of us who are part of this lawsuit to win pay equity.
As Senator Weinberg has noted, the Equal Pay Act was passed to address long-term historic inequities in pay. The women of New Jersey earn 82 cents to a man’s dollar, and that figure is even lower for women of color, because that is how hierarchy works. It is unjust and unfair for both white women and women of color to earn less than their male counterparts for doing substantially similar work. The five of us who are part of this lawsuit want to strike a blow against this injustice.
That is really, in my opinion, what is at stake in this lawsuit. I understand that this is one of the first cases that has gone to court under the Equal Pay Act, and the outcome will set a precedent for all workers in New Jersey.
It is vital, as Nancy has mentioned, to have pioneering laws that make it illegal to pay less for substantially similar work. And as Nikol mentioned, this is indeed a precedent-setting bill. Now we are involved in the hard work of trying to make that law a reality in the lives of all the people who work in this diverse and multiracial state of New Jersey.
At Rutgers, we were inspired by the Equal Pay Act because it gave wings to our own fight for pay equity at the university. Back in 2017, when I was the president of our union, Rutgers AAUP-AFT, I asked an economics professor who specializes in pay equity issues to conduct a study of pay practices at Rutgers.
And guess what? We found that there are systematic pay differences along the lines of gender. Like you, Senator Weinberg, I was determined to set this injustice right, and our union adopted an overall platform of gender and race equity, which includes many dimensions, pay equity among them. Governor Phil Murphy sent us a letter of support endorsing our proposals.
Collectively the members of this union fought to create a process to address pay inequities, and on the brink of a strike, the previous Barchi administration agreed to our proposal. However, to date, not a single case of pay inequity has been addressed.
All of us put in our applications, some more than a year ago, and we have been waiting to no avail. I will use the words of Rev. Martin Luther King, who said, “Justice too long delayed is justice denied.”
And I want to be clear, the problem of pay inequity didn’t begin last year, when we put in our applications, but has been going on for decades. Each of us has lost hundreds of thousands of dollars because we were not paid what we should have been.
This is why we are part of this lawsuit. But this is bigger than us. This is important for us as faculty of Rutgers, the state university of New Jersey. Rutgers is a top-notch university with excellent faculty, and we want to keep it that way. We have come forward to be part of this lawsuit so that others can be spared the time, energy, and financial burden. We want our example to shine a spotlight on the injustices at Rutgers so that our new president, Jonathan Holloway, who is committed to equity, can work to create a process where all faculty—and particularly faculty in historically oppressed groups—are treated with the respect they deserve and are paid a fair salary.
The example of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg has been mentioned. I know I can speak for all of us when I say that we have come forward so that in another 20 or 30 years, another group of women does not have to fight this fight all over again and relitigate this injustice. I believe that Rutgers under President Holloway’s leadership can set an important precedent, not only in the state of New Jersey but for institutions of higher education all over the country.