In May, the Supreme Court issued a 5-4 decision, in Ledbetter v. Goodyear, that tosses aside prior law and makes it much harder for workers to pursue pay discrimination claims. The court held that a worker must file a charge of pay discrimination within 180 days of the employer's first decision to pay someone less for discriminatory reasons. This bill rectifies the Supreme Court's decision, thereby simply restoring the longstanding interpretation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act — that each paycheck that results from a discriminatory decision is itself a discriminatory act that resets the clock on the 180-day period within which a worker must file. The Supreme Court decision ignores the realities of the workplace — where employees generally do not know enough about what their co-workers earn, or how pay decisions are made, to file a complaint precisely when discrimination first occurs. Indeed, in a large proportion of U.S. companies, salaries are confidential.
Chairman George Miller of the Education and Labor Committee crafted the legislation after an in-depth hearing where Lilly Ledbetter, the plaintiff in the pay discrimination lawsuit decided by the Supreme Court, testified on the problems with the Court’s interpretation of the law. President Bush has vowed to veto the legislation, and Chairman Miller in turn vowed that it will indeed become law. Ledbetter said the following today:
“I spent 19 years working for Goodyear. As I found out late in my career, Goodyear had been discriminating against me in pay because I am a woman. I had to support my family with less income than what the men were getting, even though I was doing the same job they were doing. My case is over and it is too bad that the Supreme Court ruled the way that it did. But now Congress has the opportunity to act so that this won't happen to anyone else. If Congress passes H.R. 2831, I would feel that my long fight through the courts was worthwhile, because it would mean that other workers who find themselves the target of pay discrimination would be able to seek and get justice.”
Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (TX-18) speaks in favor during debate on the rule:
“It took a Democratic Congress to raise the minimum wage. Ten years, we could not get our friends on the other side of the aisle to raise the minimum wage. It took a majority Democratic congress to raise that wage. Now understand, suppose two, three years later you found out that the minimum wage was raised in 2007, but your employer had never told you. The question becomes, is it not fair for you to be able to have retroactively what is due you as a hard-working American? That is what happened to Lilly Ledbetter, who worked for Goodyear — year after year after year after year after year. And tragically, a Supreme Court, unevenly divided, appointed by this administration, believed that lLilly Ledbetter had no rights.”