The Joys of a New Senate

Kristin Teigen

Just after 6 pm on Thursday night, the Senate, now with a larger Democratic majority, passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act. This is a cause for tremendous celebration and one of the first pieces of legislation that will hopefully extend a greater level of equity and fairness to all Americans.

Many have been focused on the accomplishments and the potential of President Obama in these first few days of a new administration, but we must also relish and support the actions of congressional Democrats who are working to right the extraordinary wrongs of the Bush Administration and its supporters throughout government.

For background on the Act, the Supreme Court issued an opinion in 2007 in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire Company which stated that victims of pay discrimination must take action within the first 180 days of any discriminatory act. The decision essentially blunted any redress for most incidences of pay discrimination, which often become evident only as a pattern over time. Also, many companies can keep pay rates confidential for years and any sort of statute of limitations lets the discrimination stay in place unless it is almost immediately unearthed and addressed.

Accompanying the decision was a blistering dissent from Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who exhorted Congress to amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act in such a way as to invalidate the decision. The House of Representatives attempted to do so in the summer of 2007, passing legislation onto the Senate.

Senate Republicans, however, filibustered the legislation and Democrats were unable to obtain the 60 votes necessary to obtain cloture. Even if they had, then-President Bush (oh, how I love writing “then”) promised to veto it.

Now, Ted Stevens from Alaska, Elizabeth Dole from North Carolina, John Warner from Virginia and Wayne Allard from Colorado were not there to vote against it, having been replaced by sympathetic Democrats. Perhaps sensing a new tide, Republican Lisa Murkowski from Alaska changed her vote. Oregon’s Gordon Smith, attempting a desperate dive toward the “moderate” label, had supported the Ledbetter Act in 2008, but did little at the time to persuade his fellow Republicans to join him. Now, we have Jeff Merkley, who will not only support fair pay, but will hopefully do so avidly.

Despite this victory, we need to keep pushing even our closest friends. Despite the victory last night, this morning the Senate put off taking action on another vital piece of legislation, the Paycheck Fairness Act. This Act would have made it easier for women to join class action lawsuits, prohibited employer retaliation against employees who share their salary information with coworkers, and closed various loopholes that allow employers to circumvent the laws. The Act would have also allowed for more analysis and information gathering which would lead to greater understanding of both specific acts and industry trends that could lead to pay inequity. Please, take a minute to call Wyden and Merkley and tell them to push the Paycheck Fairness Act to the floor of the Senate.

So today, while I’m breaking out some left-over champagne from Tuesday, we shouldn't expect that the hard work of fighting for equality will be over anytime soon.

Comments

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    damn! What's up with the formatting?

  • Zarathustra (unverified)
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    Great points. The other bill you mention is extremely important for getting IT contract rates under control. Please take the time to contact our two Senators, who actually understand this, and ask them to make sure it comes to the floor.

  • Admiral Naismith (unverified)
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    It's a beautiful new day for America.

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    An addendum to your fine write-up, the bill now goes to the House where it is expected to pass, and then to President Obama's desk (that will never get old typing that) if they do indeed pass it as well.

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    The remaining Republican males voted for discrimination against women. The four women Republican Senators all voted for the bill. Do the Republican males not understand how deep a hole they keep digging? They really are trying to go after the 1950's generation that is currently dying off.

  • Bill R. (unverified)
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    Elections matter. Dem. majorities matter. An Obama presidency matters. Some leftist bloggers think the only thing that matters is Rick Warren.

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    A correction. Up above I said that all the male Republicans voted against the bill. I was wrong. Senator Specter voted for it. So one male Republican voted in favor of justice. Did any of the rest of them talk to their wives or even their female senate colleagues?

  • (Show?)

    Very well said, Kristin!

    The rawest deal that Lilly Ledbetter got wasn't from Goodyear. It was from the United States Supreme Court. I honestly don't know how those so-called justices could sleep at night after that ruling.

  • Tom Vail (unverified)
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    The original 1964 Civil Rights law, requiring an individual to act upon a claim of discrimination within 180 days was probably bad law. I can only guess that the statute of limitations written into the law was a compromise that was necessary to get the law through congress. BTW, over 80% of Republicans voted for the law while barely 60% of Democrats voted for the Civil Rights Law. The compromise was likely done to get enough Democrats to join in and vote for the Civil Rights Bill. The Supreme Court ruled correctly in the Ledbetter case. Their ruling confirmed the law of the land which Ledbetter failed to follow, i.e., the 180 day filing limitation. Contrary to Justice Ginsberg's dissent (she wanted to change the law rather than rule on the matter before the court), the Court properly ruled that the law was constitutional and the plaintiff had failed to follow the law. IMO, the 1964 Civil Rights Law should be changed. I agree that the 180 day statue of limitations is inappropriate. I also believe that a virtually unlimited filing period (as in the law just passed) is equally bad law. Having said the above, I agree that discrimination should be prevented where possible and the basic intent of the new law is right. However, the execution of the new law, removing limitations on filing claims, will have far reaching negative consequences.

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    The new law basically returns us to where we were before the decision...a place Ginsburg wanted us to go. The nation didn't come to a halt under the former system...I think we'll be OK...

  • Kurt Chapman (unverified)
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    The law (Civil Rights Act of 1964) was interpreted correctly by the Supreme Court. Beware the centripital arc of a knee jerk reaction. While 180 days as a filing deadline may have been too short, the virtual open-ended opportunity to file under Ledbetter is not the answer.

  • Tom Vail (unverified)
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    I'm not sure I understand how this "basically returns us to where we were before the decision." Since 1964 the law has had the statute of limitations (Title VII) on claims. The new law changes the law in existence for 45 years. As to "...a place Ginsburg wanted us to go...," she basically stated she hoped Congress would rewrite this law, which it has now done, if poorly IMO. Since the law is new, the consequences cannot be known for a period of time. I am not trying to be argumentative but I truly can't understand how you see this new law as returning to the law that existed between 1964 and 2007, when the Court upheld that law. The only change is going forward, not returning to something that has been consistent since 1964.

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    The statute in the 1964 law had long been interpreted differently than the Court did in 2007, in effect applying a far more restrictive version of it than other courts had previously.

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    My understanding (or misunderstanding as the case may be - I'm not a lawyer) is that prior to 2007 the statute was interpreted to apply the 180 limit to when an individual became aware that a violation had taken place rather than the absurdly onerous notion that it began at the moment the violation took place whether the victim was aware of it or not.

    If we applied that reasoning to the Bernie Madoff scam then his earlier victims would be told to suck it up because it doesn't matter that they didn't know they were being ripped off.

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    Yes, Kevin, that's my understanding as well. The 180 day limit in that sense was appropriate -- you couldn't bring a lawsuit if a whim struck you 5 years down the line.

  • Zarathustra (unverified)
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    The case opened the door for completely legal discrimination. You simply hire someone, then place them on a deliberately dead-end career path day 1. Put it right there, in writing, in their file, will not be promoted about whatever, or max salary=whatever. Throw it in the file. First review comes up in 6 months. "I'd like to start management training". "Sorry, we've decided you'll never make more than xyz and won't be management because you're a woman and might decide to have kids". No recourse. It has been 6 months since the decision was made. That's the nasty bit. It's not 6 months refusing a promotion or raise or whatever, it was 6 months from the decision. Doesn't matter that you can't read their minds. Without this bill, all those protections would have simply evaporated.

    <h2>Change. Joe Biden presiding over the new Senate, not Dick Cheney or Sarah Palin. That sobers you up quick. Sarah Palin would be presiding over the Senate right now.</h2>

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