Author of New Jersey’s Equal Pay Act Calls on Administration to Set New Example
NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J.—State Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg spoke alongside women professors suing Rutgers University over pay inequality to call on the new administration to set an example for the state, at a virtual press conference on Tuesday, December 8.
Weinberg was the prime sponsor of the Diane B. Allen Equal Pay Act, acknowledged nationally as the strongest state law against pay discrimination in the country. The five female professors who filed suit in October are accusing Rutgers of violating the “equal pay for substantially similar work” standard set by the law.
- YouTube video of the press conference
- Remarks from Majority Leader Weinberg, Prof. Wolff, and Prof. Kumar
- Bios of press conference participants
- Original complaint filed in superior court
Weinberg said she came to the press conference with “pride in that law” but also “a little bit of chagrin and embarrassment” that a suit alleging violations of the act was filed against the state university of New Jersey. “We should be a leader in that area,” she said.
“I know we have a comparatively new president with Dr. [Jonathan] Holloway,” Weinberg said. “I know how COVID has distracted everybody over the last number of months, and he has had to deal with this when he came in as a new president. But I’m hoping that this press conference will help call attention to the fact that we need his help in following these programs that Rutgers signed with the union—so that we are able to move ahead to make sure that this kind of inequity doesn’t exist in the state university of New Jersey.”
The lawsuit, filed in mid-October (read the complaint here), documents how each of the plaintiffs, who are all senior and highly accomplished women faculty members, was substantially underpaid for years compared to male colleagues of equal accomplishment and experience.
To take just one example, Judith Storch, a distinguished professor of nutritional sciences and recipient of substantial and continuous National Institutes of Health grants throughout her 28 years teaching at Rutgers, is paid nearly $100,000 less each year than a male distinguished professor doing similar work. (Comparisons for all the plaintiffs are extensively documented in the complaint.)
At the press conference, one of the plaintiffs, Nancy Wolff, a Distinguished Professor in the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy with 29 years of teaching at Rutgers, emphasized that the issue of salary inequality at Rutgers dates back decades.
“We are following in the footsteps of the great, late US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who along with female colleagues at Rutgers-Newark, filed a lawsuit over five decades ago against the university for pay inequity,” Wolff said. “They won. It is truly unfortunate that the five of us are fighting the same fight all over again. This Groundhog Day is not a fantasy or a comedy; it is a persistent reality of economic injustice.”
The cases of the plaintiffs came to light because of a groundbreaking program to address pay inequity among faculty negotiated by their union, Rutgers AAUP-AFT, which joined with the plaintiffs in filing the complaint. The program allows faculty to apply for compensation in cases of pay discrimination based on race, gender, and other categories, as well as inequities across Rutgers’ three campuses—Newark, Camden, and New Brunswick.
At least 130 faculty members have applied to the program since it took effect in July 2019. Many deans reviewed the applications that began coming in last year and greenlighted pay equity corrections, but the process stalled among top administrators, say union leaders. To date, the administration has not completed processing a single case.
Another plaintiff, Deepa Kumar, a Professor of Journalism and Media Studies, said the lawsuit was part of the “hard work” of trying to make the pioneering equal pay law Weinberg championed “a reality in the lives of all the people who work in this diverse and multiracial state of New Jersey.”
“We want our example to shine a spotlight on the injustices at Rutgers,” Kumar said, “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.”
Nikol Alexander-Floyd, an Associate Professor of Political Science and Executive Council member of Rutgers AAUP-AFT who introduced the press conference, spelled out the wider implications of both the law and the lawsuit.
“This is also a historic suit because it will support equity and justice for all workers,” Alexander-Floyd said. “This lawsuit will impact not only workers here at Rutgers but, indeed, across the state. What happens here will impact what happens at other universities. What happens here will impact the public sector and the private sector.”
Weinberg welcomed the five plaintiffs “taking an action which will hopefully provide equity under the law. And while you’re doing it, it keeps a spotlight on where these inequities still exist. They run the gamut from academics, like those of you represented here, to some of the front-line workers who we cherish and celebrate in today’s pandemic.”
“We have years of catching up to do,” she said. “There’s no denial. When I first got involved with this—God knows so many years ago—we were talking about 75 cents to a man’s dollar. We’ve got a lot of ground to make up. We’ve set up the framework, and now it is up to business—and most importantly, our state university—to become the leaders and not the followers.”
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