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Pete Burns
Pete Burns
Attorney • (800) 574-4332

Equal Pay for Equal Work

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Senators will vote on the Lilly Ledbetter bill when it comes for a final Senate vote in the very near future. The bill supports equal pay for equal work by removing a loophole that has allowed widespread abuse of women and minorities in the workplace. The loophole opened in May of 2007 when the Supreme Court ruled against Lilly Ledbetter a former employee of the Goodyear plant in Gadsden, Alabama. http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/05-1074.ZO.html She had worked for 19 years making $6,500 less than her lowest paid male counterpart. The jury found that the disparity was based upon her sex and awarded her back pay and damages. The United States Supreme Court ruled that even though Ms. Ledbetter did not know of the disparity she waited to long to complain. She could not recover because she did not file a claim within180 days of the first decision to pay her less.

The pending bill agrees with Justice Ginsburg’s dissent which was joined by Justices Stevens, Souter and Breyer: Title VII claims should not be forfeited before the victim can reasonably discover the discrimination. In the real world most employees are not privy to the wages of others so many lose their remedy before they learn of the violation.

It is hard to find a “good” reason to oppose a bill that will protect workers from discrimination based on race, age, disability or gender. The only justification I have heard so far comes from two groups comprised primarily of employers: The Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers. They claim to oppose the bill because it would lead to more lawsuits. Undoubtedly they are also motivated by the realization that if the bill fails the discriminatory employers will get to keep the wages they shorted the workers.

It will be interesting to see which Senators conclude that fear of an increase in lawsuits is a good reason to oppose this remedial legislation. Do they really think it is better for America to allow employers to profit from discrimination than to allow the victims to have their day in court?