WASHINGTON – Energized by the prospects of a pro-labor president, House Democrats marked the first week of the new Congress Friday by pushing through two bills to help workers, particularly women, who are victims of pay discrimination.
Unlike President George W. Bush, who threatened to veto the two bills when they came up in the last session of Congress, President-elect Barack Obama has embraced them.
“Today we face a transformational moment,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., chief sponsor of the Paycheck Fairness Act. “With a new Congress, a new administration, we have a chance to finally provide equal pay for equal work and make opportunity real for millions of American women.”
The Lilly Ledbetter Act would reverse a 2007 Supreme Court ruling that a worker must file claims of wage discrimination within 180 days of the first decision to pay that worker less, even if the person was unaware of the pay disparity. The Paycheck Fairness Act would close loopholes that have enabled employers to evade the 1963 law requiring equal pay for equal work. The first passed 247-171, the second 256-163.
The Ledbetter bill could reach the Senate floor as early as next week. Democrats, who have increased their majority in the Senate, last year fell three votes short of shutting off a GOP-led filibuster that blocked the bill after it passed the House.
Republican opponents of the two measures argued that they would foster lawsuits against businesses and mainly benefit trial lawyers.
Lilly Ledbetter was a supervisor at a Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. plant in Gadsden, Ala. She sued the company over pay discrimination when she learned, shortly before retiring after a 19-year career there, that she earned less than any male supervisor. A jury ruled in her favor, but the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 vote, threw out her complaint, saying she had failed to sue within the 180-day deadline after a discriminatory pay decision was made.
“This ruling just doesn’t make sense in the real world,” Ledbetter said in a telephone news conference Thursday. “In a lot of places you could get fired for asking your co-workers how much they are making.”
The House bill would clarify that each paycheck resulting from discrimination would constitute a new violation, extending the 180-day statute of limitations.
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