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January 23, 2009
Senate Approves Equal Pay Legislation

The U.S. Senate has voted 61-36 in favor of legislation that would extend the deadline for filing a pay-bias complaint under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

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The legislation, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act (S 181), addresses a Supreme Court decision that said the deadline for workers to file a pay-bias complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act is 180 days from the date the decision on their pay is made and communicated to them. Some lawmakers found this deadline too restrictive because many workers don't discover they were discriminated against in pay long after the action was taken.

The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act would amend Title VII of the Civil Rights Act to clarify that the180-day deadline restarts each time an employee receives a paycheck that reflects past discrimination based on race, color, religion, gender, or national origin.

Specifically, the legislation states that “an unlawful employment practice occurs … when a discriminatory compensation decision or other practice is adopted, when an individual becomes subject to a discriminatory compensation decision or other practice, or when an individual is affected by application of a discriminatory compensation decision or other practice, including each time wages, benefits, or other compensation is paid, resulting in whole or in part from such a decision or other practice.”

The legislation would also amend the Age Discrimination in Employment Act to include the provision quoted above.

The legislation now goes to the House, where lawmakers approved a virtually identical bill earlier in January. President Barack Obama is a strong supporter of the legislation.

Lilly Ledbetter was a supervisor at Goodyear Tire and Rubber's plant in Gadsden, Alabama , from 1979 until her retirement in 1998. At first, her pay was in line with the salaries of men, but over time, a gap developed between her salary and the pay of male area managers with equal or less seniority. By the end of 1997, Ledbetter was the only woman working as an area manager and was paid $3,727 per month. By comparison, the pay of the lowest paid male area manager was $4,286 per month.

Ledbetter sued in 1998, alleging disparate treatment. The company argued that the suit should be dismissed because Ledbetter failed to file a complaint with the EEOC within 180 days of the previous pay decisions that Ledbetter alleges were discriminatory.

However, Ledbetter argued that the clock on the 180-day deadline restarted after each paycheck that reflected past discrimination. She claimed that each time the company issued her a paycheck, the company demonstrated an intent to discriminate and violated Title VII. The majority of the Supreme Court rejected her arguments, saying Ledbetter should have filed a complaint after each pay decision.


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