One piece of legislation that is likely to be voted on by Congress next year is the Fair Pay Restoration Act. This Act will amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act to clarify that an unlawful practice occurs each time compensation is paid pursuant to a discriminatory compensation decision or other practice, and for other purposes.
The bill was introduced to address the Supreme Court’s decision in Ledbetter vs. Goodyear Tire and Rubber. In this case, Lilly Ledbetter took Goodyear Tire to court over lost wages resulting from extreme salary discrimination. Ledbetter was paid substantially less over time than her male counterparts who had similar or less experience than her.
The Court ruled (5-4) that Ledbetter could not receive back pay or damages from her employer even though a jury found that she was unfairly paid less than her male colleagues for many years. The Court stated that her claims fell outside of the 180-day statute of limitations in which she had to file her complaint of discrimination, even though the disparity in pay was ongoing and continuous. This extremely narrow view has upset many involved in both the labor and feminist movements.
The Fair Pay Restoration Act aims to correct this by eliminating these unreasonable time limits, allowing victims of pay discrimination to seek back pay and damages when they become aware of the injustice. This is crucial in that wage discrimination does not generally occur as a single incident. Rather, it is the accumulation of systematic discrimination over long periods of time, highlighting the need for legal reform.
Republicans oppose this measure for fear that it would adversely impact businesses by opening businesses up to a huge number of back claims dating back decades. When the issue was up for vote, Republicans filibustered to prevent action from being taken on the bill.
With the pro-worker Obama administration coming in, we can expect a renewed effort to amend the Civil Rights Act. With the Fair Pay Restoration Act signed into law, we can come closer to taking serious action on wage discrimination.