In 1996, civil rights advocates established Equal Pay Day to acknowledge the pay gap between genders in which female employees earn approximately 75% of the wages of their male counterparts. Ensuring equal pay across genders continues to be a struggle. Numerous lawsuits have been brought on behalf of women throughout the United States who, despite performing the same work as their male counterparts, are paid substantially less. In December 2007, for example, the Ninth Circuit affirmed class action certification in Dukes v. Wal-Mart, which seeks redress for approximately 1.6 million current and former female Wal-Mart employees consistently passed up for promotions and salary increases that went to lesser qualified males (See Gender Discrimination Class Action Certified by Ninth Circuit Against Wal-Mart).
Perhaps the most important suit to-date has been the United States Supreme Court’s May 2007 ruling in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., which signifies a near-fatal blow to an employee’s right to seek redress for pay discrimination. Lilly Ledbetter worked at Goodyear for 19 years before realizing she was being paid much less than many of her male counterparts. Although a jury agreed that Ms. Ledbetter had been paid unfairly, the Supreme Court reversed on the basis that her claim was time-barred by Title VII’s 180 day limitations period. For a more detailed discussion about the Ledbetter case, please visit: Supreme Court Routs Title VII in 2007: Goodyear Wins Right to Discriminate Based on Gender.
To undo the harsh effects created by the Ledbetter decision, Senator Edward Kennedy (D-Mass) proposed the Fair Pay Restoration Act, which would re-establish the long-standing rule that each discriminatory paycheck constitutes a new act of discrimination and re-starts the 180 day statute of limitations clock.
In July 2007, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Fair Pay Restoration Act by a vote of 225 to 199. Unfortunately, the White House recently threatened to veto the bill in an effort to keep the Ledbetter decision as the status quo. This will likely be a talking point in the 2008 Presidential Race. While most Democrats support the bill, most Republicans oppose the legislation. The likely Republican nominee, Arizona Senator John McCain, opposes the Fair Pay Restoration Act:
I am all in favor of pay equity for women, but this kind of legislation, as is typical of what’s being proposed by my friends on the other side of the aisle, opens us up to lawsuits for all kinds of problems. This is government playing a much, much greater role in the business of a private enterprise system.
For more information on this issue please visit the Washington Post’s article entitled, White House Threatens to Veto Discrimination Bill.