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Paying It Back and Forward: Senate to Vote on Pay Discrimination Bill

April 23, 2008

New York, NY - The U.S. Senate may vote as early as today on legislation aimed at protecting workers who discover too late that they have been victims of pay discrimination. The "Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act" would reverse a Supreme Court decision, Ledbetter v. Goodyear, in which a six-month time limit was imposed to sue an employer for unequal or discriminatory pay scales.

Kia Franklin with the Drum Major Institute says the Court's ruling has given employers an "escape clause" for long-term payroll inequities.

"It rewards corporations for discriminating against their employees in a secretive fashion. As long as they get to that 181st day, they can keep on paying disparately, based upon gender, race, age, disability - and the employee who has been discriminated against is out of luck."

Opponents of the legislation contend that extending the time deadline for such lawsuits would crowd the courts and limit employers' access to old personnel records, but the Ledbetter bill is being supported by New York's Senate delegation. It also has the approval of the National Women's Law Center, where Jocelyn Samuels says it would not only help women, but all employees suffering from unequal pay practices.

"Congress' effort to address this decision and to overturn it will benefit anyone who is subject to pay discrimination on any basis that is prohibited by the law."

Franklin calls New Yorkers "fortunate" to have a statewide Human Rights Law that prohibits employment discrimination based on age, race, creed, color, national origin, sexual orientation, military status, sex, disability, genetic predisposition or marital status. She says Senate passage of the Ledbetter Act would bring national protections up to New York standards.

"What we're seeing now, and Ledbetter is just one example of it, is a quiet rolling back of our rights under the law. So, this bill would restore the spirit of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Equal Pay Act of 1963."

The bill already has passed in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Robert Knight/Eric Mack, Public News Service - NY