It’s the law, so why are women at Rutgers still fighting for equal pay? | Opinion

By Nancy Wolff and Deepa Kumar

In 2018, New Jersey made history. With the passage of the Diane B. Allen Equal Pay Act, our state proudly enshrined a universal principle into state law: equal pay for substantially similar work. This was a major victory for workers in New Jersey who have struggled for decades to win legal protections against discrimination by gender, race, national origin, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation, and other factors.

Enacting a law is one thing. Living up to it is another.

At Rutgers, one of the state’s largest employers, pay equity remains an aspiration rather than a reality. As tenured women at one of the country’s premier public universities, we are systematically paid less than our male colleagues. One of us has lost more than $500,000 in earnings over the last 15 years and the other $300,000 over the last 12 years because we were not paid equally with our white male counterparts.

These numbers are inexcusable. It’s time for Rutgers and all state institutions to obey the law by paying women equally.

Both of us, along with more than 100 other colleagues, applied for pay equity through a process that our union, Rutgers AAUP-AFT, negotiated last year in its contract. This accomplishment made the Allen Equal Pay Act a reality for faculty at Rutgers and set a precedent for universities and colleges across the country.

Unfortunately, Rutgers has not honored this pay equity process. To date, it has not settled even one of the over 135 cases that we know of.

And so, in October, we and three of our colleagues at Rutgers University — all of us tenured women professors — took a bold step to achieve pay equity. We took Rutgers to court for violating our legal right to equal pay for substantially similar work. This was not an easy choice, but we decided to do this on principle.

Between the two of us alone, a distinguished professor of public policy and a professor of media studies, we have more than four decades’ experience carrying out the mission of this state university: teaching, research, and service. Our publishing records, as well our teaching and service accomplishments, match and even exceed similar male counterparts.

Both of us have received national and Rutgers awards as well as lucrative offers from some of the world’s most prestigious institutions to leave Rutgers. We love our university, our students and our state. So we’ve chosen loyalty to our public service mission, time and time again.

Rutgers hasn’t been loyal in return, however. Over these same decades, the administration has chosen to pay us markedly less than our male colleagues. Why? Because they can get away with it — until now.

Unfortunately, rather than work with them, the university chose to hire Jackson Lewis, a private law firm that specializes in attacking workers and gumming up the pay equity process. This is bad judgment, fiscally and morally.

This is not just our plight and our fight. Since filing our lawsuit, we have received a groundswell of support from our male and female colleagues and students. Female colleagues, both white and colleagues of color, had similar stories. Female students have repeatedly asked: “Can this happen to me?”

Yes, Virginia, pay inequity exists in the public and private workplace. But, Virginia, not only is it wrong — it is against the law.

We played by the rules and asked respectfully. When these steps failed, we invoked the law. We are following in the footsteps of the late U.S. 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. They won. It is truly unfortunate that the five of us are fighting the same fight all over again.

We call upon Dr. Jonathan Holloway, our new president, to put his commitment to equity into practice. If we are to be a “beloved community” that Dr. Holloway envisions us to be, then Rutgers must treat all members of this community fairly and equitably. Let’s stop the legacy of pay inequity for women with this generation and put an end to this injustice altogether.

Nancy Wolff is a distinguished professor in the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy and director of the Bloustein Center for Survey Research, with 29 years at Rutgers University. Deepa Kumar is a Professor of Journalism and Media Students in the School of Communication and Information, with 16 years at Rutgers University.

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