Yesterday, the Senate voted overwhelmingly to pass cloture on the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. The cloture motion passed 72-23, with the bill’s sponsor Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) hoping that it could be the first to be signed into law by President-elect Barack Obama. Still, there are still serious roadblocks to the passage of this important bill. While Senate Republicans, under the leadership of Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), did not filibuster, it is widely expected that they will attempt to amend the legislation to include pro-business language – effectively weakening protections for victims of discrimination.
In a statement yesterday, Senate Minority Leader McConnell said that the bill’s “primary beneficiaries are lawyers who want to squeeze a major settlement out of every company that fears the expense or the publicity of going to court.” Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), who introduced so-called compromise legislation last year, is expected to try to include similar language in an amendment. Citing the business community’s fear of a “catastrophic increase in legal costs,” Sen. Hutchison is not happy with the bill in its current form.
In truth however, this bill would do little damage to corporations, but instead provide a basic level of protection for workers to help ensure fair treatment. In fact, all this legislation would do is restore the law to where it stood before the Supreme Court’s Ledbetter decision. This bill simply officially accepts the decades-old interpretation by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and most appellate courts of Title VII’s statute of limitations. It was the Court’s decision two years ago that set what amounts to a new time-limit for bringing discrimination claims.
The language that Sen. Hutchison intends to include would effectively cripple the bill’s protections for victims of pay discrimination. Instead of stating that each discriminatory paycheck counts as a distinct illegal act, restarting the 180-day clock to file suit, Sen. Hutchison would state that the employee would have 180 days from the time he or she knew, or should have known, that they were victims of discrimination. This amendment would essentially place the burden of proof entirely on the shoulders of the injured party, who would be forced to prove that he or she had no way of knowing that they had been victims of discrimination. Most offices discourage discussion and comparison of salaries among coworkers.
We hope that any efforts by Senate Republicans to water down this crucial bill will, in the end, prove unsuccessful. Supporters of fair pay have been fighting for almost two years for this legislation, and must not let up now. We will be sure to keep you updated on any developments in this important struggle.