So the House passed a bill yesterday countering the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co., a gender/pay discrimination case involving a female employee, Lilly Ledbetter, who found out after 19 years of employment with Goodyear that she was being paid much less for her efforts than her male counterparts. She sued. The company argued that Ledbetter was paid less because she was a bad worker who had to be repeatedly disciplined, and there was some evidence to support this. The court didn’t rule against her for this reason, though. Instead, it ruled that she had filed her suit too late – that a worker’s wage discrimination claim must be filed within 180 days of the initial instance of pay discrimination.
Before this, many courts held that each individual instance of pay inequity – each pay check or pay period, essentially – counted as a new instance of discrimination, and thus restarted the statute-of-limitations time clock. But under the Supreme Court’s new ruling, those who are victims of pay discrimination must somehow realize this within about 6 months from the time the first discriminatory decision is made, which is clearly somewhat of a difficult task. People don’t generally run around asking people in their workplaces how much they get paid, so obviously this thing isn’t usually immediately brought to light.
So the House introduced the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in June, and in July Sen.Edward Kennedy introduced a companion bill (the Fair Pay Restoration Act) in the Senate, clarifying that the time limit for suing an employer for pay discrimination begins anew with the issuance of each paycheck, essentially. The House bill passed yesterday; the Senate bill is still in committee. But apparently Republicans are against the bill, which they said would expand current pay discrimination law, and the White House (which has threatened to veto) said the bill would “impede justice and undermine the important goal of having allegations of discrimination expeditiously resolved.” Blogd notes:
The White House read is that discrimination only occurs at the time the initial decision to discriminate is made. So, in principle, if I were to start refusing today to hire a black person based upon their race, and then continued to make the same decision every week for 20 years, I would only be guilty of discrimination the first time I made such a decision, and not the subsequent 1,041 times after that. Presumably, this is based upon the “I forgot I was continuously breaking the law” defense, that a business could not be expected to remain aware of an ongoing illegal activity beyond a certain time frame.
As I mentioned above, the decision was originally played as being essentially a typo, and that the Supreme Court regrettably had to point out that typo though nobody really wanted it that way–but the White House stance is now that they agree with the typo, they believe the typo was the best thing all along, and that the typo should be followed, because it wasn’t really a typo, it was actually a feature. It even goes so far as to claim that the Ledbetter Fair-Pay Act would be a “major change” when actually it would simply reverse the Bush Supreme Court re-interpretation, and bring the law back to where it has been for decades.
Really what the White House is saying is, “we like the fact that Roberts and our other stooges made it possible to discriminate based on sex and color and whatever else we like, and we want it to stay that way, otherwise it could cause all sorts of nasty legal problems for our bigoted corporate pals.”