Wage Discrimination Bill First to Move to Obama’s Desk

Wage Discrimination Bill First to Move to Obama's Desk

January 28, 2009 – BestWire Services

Legislation that could open the door to more discrimination claims on directors and officers policies looks to be the first bill that will be signed by President Barack Obama, as the U.S. House of Representatives moved to pass a measure dubbed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.

Sponsored by Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., S. 181 cleared the House by a 250-177 margin, having passed the Senate a week earlier 61-36. Obama has said he would sign the bill Jan. 29 in a White House ceremony.

Named for an Alabama woman whose wage discrimination case against employer Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. became the subject of a 2007 case before the U.S. Supreme Court, the bill would undo the court’s 5-4 decision that federal discrimination law requires such claims be filed within 180 days of the first offense. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission had contended the statute of limitations applied to the final unequal paycheck.

“The 2007 Ledbetter Supreme Court decision has already had a chilling impact on hundreds of discrimination claims,” said House Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller, D-Calif., in a statement. “It wasn’t Lilly Ledbetter’s fault that Goodyear decided to pay her less because she was a woman. But a narrowly divided, ideological Supreme Court said that even though her company had engaged in illegal pay discrimination in secret for decades, she would have to live with a smaller pension and Social Security benefit for the rest of her life.”

Once signed, the bill would codify the EEOC’s preferred standard as a part of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Although focused on wage discrimination based on gender, it also would apply to that law’s protections from discrimination based on race, religion, national origin or disability. The law’s text declares it would “take effect as if enacted on May 28, 2007,” one day prior to the Supreme Court ruling.

A separate House version that earlier passed the chamber Jan. 9 would have demanded that employers who are defendants in gender discrimination cases have a burden to prove that discrepancies in pay between similar employees were based on non-discriminatory business reasons. The Senate version, which ultimately cleared both houses, deals solely with the statute of limitations.

The measure had support of organized labor, and has drawn concern from business groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

“The chamber strongly supports equal employment opportunity and effective mechanisms to achieve this important goal,” said Randel Johnson, the U.S. Chamber’s vice president for labor policy. “However, further increasing the opportunity for frivolous litigation would only further serve to undermine America’s civil rights laws.”

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