How long do working women have to wait? And how many will be short-changed before Congress restores their ability to seek redress for pay discrimination?
It has been one year since the U.S. Supreme Court upended years of court precedent and effectively gutted a civil rights statute that gave victims of paycheck discrimination the right to sue their employers. In the decision, a 5-4 majority of the Court said that Lilly Ledbetter should have made her claim within 180 days of the company’s first offense — her first discriminatory paycheck — nearly 20 years earlier.
Even though the trial court determined that Goodyear had committed repeated acts of pay discrimination against Ledbetter, and awarded her millions in compensation, the Supreme Court — one year ago today — overturned the lower courts and denied her even one penny. And, in a critical blow to women’s rights, the Court reworked the civil rights law covering wage discrimination so that women will almost always be “too late” to seek redress in workplaces where salaries are a closely-guarded secret.
It was a crushing and perverse decision, and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s dissent encouraged a Congressional fix to restore the law’s longstanding interpretation. Last June, the House quickly passed a Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act of 2007 and sent it to the Senate. Since then the Senate counterpart bill has languished despite bipartisan support including two chief sponsors, Senators Arlen Specter (R-PA) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), because of a filibuster led by Republican leadership.
When the Senate leadership brought the House-passed version of the bill to the Senate floor, the Republican leaders filibustered the bill, and sponsors fell just shy of the 60 votes needed to break the filibuster (cloture) and move on to final passage. Though Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) vowed to bring this legislation up again before the Congress adjourns this fall, we see little commitment from moderate Senators to make this happen. Our message is this: Do not say you care about women’s rights and ending the wage gap unless you support restoring the civil rights law that is part of the framework for guaranteeing these rights.
Since the Court declared that an individual must file within 180 days of the first discriminatory paycheck, it is almost impossible to detect when the discriminatory pay began unless you start snooping around. Will the motto of new workers be “show me your paycheck”? Unlike other discriminatory activities, pay discrimination is not an obvious adverse action against the employee, such as firing, demoting, or harassing. Unless we restore the right of workers to receive fair wages, employers will continue to pocket and profit from the wages that they save by underpaying women in workplaces throughout the country.
No paycheck should be based on gender, ability, identity, race, religion, national origin or other discriminatory grounds — and every paycheck should be fair. The Roberts Supreme Court puts women on a path that denies their basic employment and civil rights, and unless these rights are restored, the legislators putting up roadblocks in Congress must be held accountable for their long term impact on women in the workplace and the short change in our wallets.