The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights  & The Leadership Conference Education Fund
The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition

Bipartisan Pay Discrimination Legislation Introduced in Senate

Feature Story by Tyler Lewis - 7/20/2007

Senators Edward M. Kennedy, D. Mass., Olympia Snowe, R. Maine, and Arlen Specter, R. Pa. introduced the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2007 today in the Senate.

The bill will amend Title VII of the Civil Rights Act to make clear to the courts that the 180-day statute of limitations applies to every instance of a discriminatory paycheck rather than only pay decisions.  It is a direct response to the recent Supreme Court decision in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company that redefined a longstanding legal understanding of workers' rights to combat pay discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

"We are pleased that such an important bill enjoys bipartisan support," said Wade Henderson.  "This bill will right a terrible wrong perpetuated by the Supreme Court and strengthen protections for the nation’s workers."

For years, in the context of pay discrimination, courts interpreted Title VII's prohibition of "unlawful employment practices" to include all paychecks workers receive that are tainted by a discriminatory pay decision.

But, in Ledbetter, the Supreme Court reversed precedent and decided that "unlawful employment practices" only occur when pay decisions are made and that workers who are discriminated against only have 180 days from the time pay decisions are made to file suit. Under this new interpretation, women, minorities, older Americans, and people with disabilities will have a more difficult time proving pay discrimination in the workplace.

The controversial May 30 ruling ignited a firestorm of criticism, particularly from civil rights groups, who argued that the decision might actually increase wage discrimination.

"The Court's decision in Ledbetter ignores the realities of the workplace. Employees typically don't know much about what their co-workers earn, or how pay decisions are made, making it difficult to satisfy the Court's new rule," said Henderson, in June 12 testimony before the House Education and Labor Committee.

The pay discrimination lawsuit was brought by Lilly Ledbetter, a former Goodyear Tire employee in Gadsden, AL, who was paid thousands of dollars less than her male counterparts over a 19-year period.

On June 27, 2007, the House Committee on Education and Labor approved a companion measure, which the full House of Representatives is expected to consider this summer. 

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