The New Jersey Supreme Court has ruled that three tenured female professors at Seton Hall University may proceed with their wage-based discrimination lawsuit, overturning lower court decisions that had rejected the suit as untimely based on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company. In doing so, the Court held that each separate discriminatory payment constitutes an actionable wrong under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD).

At issue was the timeliness of the filing of Alexander v. Seton Hall University, et al., a pay equity suit brought under the LAD. The suit had been dismissed based on the U.S. Supreme Court's reasoning in Ledbetter. In a decision affirmed by the Appellate Division, a lower court held that any wage disparity resulted from discriminatory pay decisions made outside of the LAD limitations period, and that the suit was therefore untimely. In a 5-1 decision issued on November 23, 2010, however, the Court said reliance on Ledbetter was misplaced: "No persuasive reason has been advanced to supplant … established state law." Further, it noted, Congress overturned Ledbetter with passage of the federal Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 (FPA), and "[i]t would be an odd step to bring this state's jurisprudence into conformity with case law that has been rendered obsolete." Rather, under LAD, plaintiffs may seek recovery of wages over the two-year period preceding the filing of the suit.

The plaintiffs alleged in Alexander v. Seton Hall that younger and male faculty were better paid than they, citing a Seton Hall report breaking down the salaries of all full-time faculty members by college, rank, and gender. On July 27, 2007, the plaintiffs, each older than 60 and employed more than 19 years, filed a complaint alleging discrimination based on payment of unequal wages in violation of the LAD, and seeking damages back to their hire dates. Under Alexander v. Seton Hall, they can seek enhanced wage payments only for the two years preceding filing of the suit.

This decision should spur employers with operations in New Jersey to review salary policies, practices, and histories to ensure non-discriminatory administration of wages among employees regardless of gender, age, or any other trait protected by LAD.

Ballard Spahr's labor and employment attorneys have extensive experience assisting both public and private employers with discrimination claims, including wage-based allegations. If you have any questions or concerns about the effect of the LAD or FPA on your operations, please feel free to call Patricia A. Smith, 856.873.5521 or; or any member of Ballard Spahr's Labor and Employment Group.

Copyright © 2011 by Ballard Spahr LLP.
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