In what looks to be the first action under the Diane B. Allen Equal Pay Act, two Verona officials have received hefty settlements for spending years being paid less because of their gender.
Township Clerk Jennifer Kiernan and Municipal Court Clerk Erika Varela alleged that they were paid considerably less than what some male department heads received.
“Kiernan’s gender was a motivating factor” in the decision to “pay her less than male peers,” her attorney, Neil Mullin, said in his court filing.
They have agreed to settlements of lawsuit that give them back pay and raises in a combined package that will cost an insurance fund representing Verona about $500,000.
Kiernan was paid $73,451 in 2019, considerably less than finance director Matthew Laracy ($125,000) and township manager Matthew Cavallo ($143,322).
Varela, who was represented by Kathryn McClure, was paid $78,810 in 2019, court records show.
In her lawsuit, Varela alleged that in late 2018, Cavallo mistreated her based on gender discrimination.
She asked the court to order Cavallo to undergo anti-discrimination training. It’s not immediately clear if that was part of the settlement.
Municipal clerks, a post more frequently held by women than, say, a public works director, are often underpaid, Mullin said.
The settlement in the Kiernan and Varela cases could spur more women employees to seek pay equity under the state law.
The landmark legislation, named for former State Sen. Diane Allen (R-Edgewater Park), forces public employers to compensate employees who perform similar work without gender bias.
Allen, who spent 20 years in the State Senate, was the New Jersey Network statehouse reporter during Brendan Byrne’s first term as governor. Eventually, she became the news anchors for ABC and CBS affiliates in Philadelphia.
Allen filed three complaints against CBS with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), alleging sexism and age discrimination. In 1994, sued CBS for discriminatory practices and won.
When he signed the bill in 2018, Gov. Phil Murphy said that “the only factors to determine a worker’s wages should be intelligence, experience and capacity to do the job,”
According to Murphy, the median salary for women working full-time in New Jersey was $11,737 less than the amount paid to men.
Sponsors of the legislation include Senate President Steve Sweeney, Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, State Sen. Sandra B. Cunningham (D-Jersey City), and Assembly members Pamela Lampitt (D-Cherry Hill), Joann Downey (D-Neptune), Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Englewood), Raj Mukherji (D-Jersey City), Shavonda Sumter (D-Paterson), and Paul Moriarty (D-Washington Township).