Workplace discrimination

Yesterday, the U.S. Senate took up the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act which the House had already passed.  The act was pretty reasonable.  It essentially clarified the 1964 civil rights act to say that if you are being discriminated in terms of salary equity, you have 180 days from the date of each paycheck to file a claim.  So, essentially it defines the act of discrimination as occurring with each short changed paycheck and not just with the initial salary setting.

The case stems from Lilly Ledbetter who was a manager at Goodyear.  She was paid significantly less than her male counterparts for the same job.  Everyone agrees that she was discriminated against on the basis of her gender.  She was awarded $3.5 million in back pay and punitive damages.  Goodyear appealed and the supreme court ruled that congress had written the law so that you had to file suit within 180 days from the first discriminatory paycheck not the most recent.  Ledbetter, who didn’t know her colleagues’ salaries until years later was SOL.

The bill seems pretty simple, clarify that the clock resets with each discriminatory paycheck.  But unfortunately, that didn’t work for the republicans who filibustered it on Wednesday.  It was pretty much a straight party line vote.  Both of the democratic candidates for president voted for the bill, most of the republicans voted to uphold the filibuster.  One exception, that mavericky maverick John McCain.  McCain believes that women should be paid equitably, but doesn’t want to encourage lawsuits, so rather than take a stand and vote for or against the bill… he dodged and didn’t vote at all.  Way to take a stand!

The republicans claim that they too want to see equal pay for equal work, but that they don’t want to encourage lawsuits.  Well, guess what – that’s just tough.  There are two ways to deal with corporate bad behavior: regulations (where the executive branch can fine a company) and the your-on-your-own approach of allowing lawsuits.  For as long as I can remember, republicans have been campaigning against both of these means to rein in bad business behavior.  They campaign against regulations (“they make our businesses less competitive”) and they campaign to limit your ability to sue when they break the law (“tort reform to keep money out of the hands of trial lawyers!”).  So apparently it’s the official position of the republican party that companies should be able to do what they want and if you don’t like it, you can go to Canada.

My hope is that the democrats use the republican’s opposition to the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act to beat the snot out of the republicans in the general election.

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