President Obama and Democrats in Congress will act to overturn a Supreme Court decision that made it much harder for people to challenge discrimination in employment, education, housing and other fields. The High Court’s decision involving Lilly M. Ledbetter, who had accused her employer of sex-based pay discrimination, was handed down in May 2007. Since then, courts around the country have gone far beyond the facts of that case and cited it as a reason for rejecting legitimate lawsuits claiming discrimination based on race, sex, age and disability. In some cases, after initially ruling for employees, judges have actually reversed themselves and ruled in favor of employers. The judges apparently felt they had to switch because of the Supreme Court decision.
As you may recall, Ms. Ledbetter, who worked for 19 years at a Goodyear tire plant in Gadsden, Alabama, spoke at the Democratic National Convention in August. She campaigned for then-candidate Obama and also made a television commercial for him. This courageous woman soon became a hero to Democrats and an inspiration to all working men and women. As a U.S. Senator, President Obama was a co-sponsor of a bill to overturn the Supreme Court decision. In the final presidential debate, the then-Democratic nominee said he would appoint judges who understood the struggles of “real-world folks” like Lilly Ledbetter.
The legislation before Congress would essentially relax the statute of limitations under various civil rights laws, giving people more time to file charges. President Bush promised he would have vetoed the bill had it passed while he was in office. President Obama – to his credit – backs the legislation and will sign it into law. President Obama describes the bill as part of a broader effort by his incoming Administration to “update the social contract,” reinvigorate civil rights and close the pay gap between men and women.
At issue in the Ledbetter case was the deadline for filing charges under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Supreme Court did not deny that Ms. Ledbetter had suffered discrimination, but said she should have filed her claim within 180 days of “the alleged unlawful employment practice” — the initial decision to pay her less than men performing similar work. The Supreme Court rejected the argument that each paycheck was a violation of the law. Writing for the majority, Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. said the statute of limitations must be strictly interpreted to protect employers against “stale claims” and “tardy lawsuits.”
In a dissenting opinion, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said Ms. Ledbetter’s pay fell behind that of men because of “a long series of decisions reflecting Goodyear’s pervasive discrimination against women managers in general and Ms. Ledbetter in particular.” Justice Ginsburg invited Congress to correct the Court’s “cramped interpretation” of the law. That is exactly what Congressional Democrats are in the process of doing. Their bill states that a violation occurs each time a person receives a paycheck resulting from “a discriminatory compensation decision.”
The House passed a similar bill, 225 to 199, in July 2007. In the Senate, supporters fell three votes short of the 60 needed to overcome a filibuster, but they will almost surely be able to clear that hurdle in the new Congress. As expected, the United States Chamber of Commerce opposes the bill. The bill passed the House and has now gone to the Senate. Hopefully, the bill will have passed the Senate and be signed into law by the time this issue is in the mail. It’s something that is long overdue in the workplace.
Source: New York Times
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