Long Island Business News - Long Island Business News: "Equal Pay Law Targets Split Supreme Court"

News Article

By:  Pete King
Date: Aug. 25, 2007
Location: Unknown

Long Island Business News - Long Island Business News: "Equal Pay Law Targets Split Supreme Court"

Ross Daly

Largely along party lines, the House of Representatives has approved legislation that would undo a Supreme Court ruling this spring that limited the ability of employees to sue for pay discrimination.

The bill, called the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, would extend the statute of limitations to allow employees to sue up to 180 days after the paycheck containing allegedly unfair pay is issued. That's a position the Supreme Court declined to take in its May ruling in Ledbetter vs. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., when the court said each paycheck does not restart the clock.

The court was sharply divided, 5-4, and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote a strong dissent urging Congress to amend the law to change the court's "parsimonious reading. "

"And Congress, at least the House, has acted," said Rep. Tim Bishop, D-New York, who cosponsored and voted for the bill.

The House voted 225-198 to pass the bill, with all but a handful of Democrats in support and a vast majority of Republicans in opposition. The members of Long Island's congressional delegation all voted with their parties.

It's unrealistic "to expect an employee to know within 180 days of the receipt of the first discriminatory paycheck, when they may be new on the job, not have access to the information because they're new on the job or may be intimidated because they're new," Bishop said.

Republicans who voted against the measure said it gutted the statute of limitations. "Unlimited retroactivity could result in massive amounts of litigation," said Rep. Peter King, R-New York, who voted against the measure.

At the time of the Supreme Court decision, Marc Wenger, a partner with Jackson Lewis LLP in Melville, accurately predicted that decision wouldn't be the end of the issue. "We haven't seen the last of this legislation," Wenger said this week. "The legislation overlooks a couple of facts that might affect employees in the real world. "

The bill that passed the House seems to presume that employment discrimination claims have to be brought in 180 days, said Wenger, who represents companies in matters relating to equal employment opportunity.

But that takes too narrow a view, Wenger noted. In most states, which have fair employment practice agencies, employees have 300 days to file discrimination claims. And even on the federal level, Wenger said, claims can be brought for up to two years under the Equal Pay Act.

The court's May ruling only applied to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and related statutes. "This legislation isn't necessary for women who feel discriminated against," Wenger said, noting their claims "could be brought, and have always been brought, for two years. That's a reasonable amount of time. "

But if the legislation becomes law, employers will face a real problem explaining old actions. "Decisions that were made many, many years ago are now exposing them to significant liability," Wenger said. "That practical problem was at the heart of the Supreme Court's decision. "

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