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Public Statements

Fair Pay Restoration Act

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

FAIR PAY RESTORATION ACT -- (Senate - April 22, 2008)


Mrs. McCASKILL. Mr. President, I also rise to talk about Lilly Ledbetter and some practical realities regarding this issue. I had the honor of representing a number of people on discrimination cases during the time I practiced law in Kansas City. I represented people on age discrimination, race discrimination, and gender discrimination. I am familiar with the law before Ledbetter. The thing about this decision that is hardest for me is how unpractical it is. When I was a single mom with three small kids in a job with a lot of responsibility and long hours, I had to be very practical in the way I lived my life. Working women across this country are very practical people. They have to prioritize. They make multitasking a way of life.

I look at this decision from a practical standpoint. Here is what sticks in my craw. They are acting as if when you get a paycheck, immediately some switch is turned on in your head that says: My paycheck is discriminatory.

There is no way women in the workplace can look at their paycheck and immediately determine they have been discriminated against. They don't know what everybody else is making. If you are going to say that someone only has 180 days to file a complaint on discrimination from the date the decision is made to make that complaint, what you are saying is that everybody in the workplace, whether they are an elderly person, whether they are a minority, whether they are a woman, they are going to have to turn into a detective every time they get a paycheck. They are going to have to run around and interview their colleagues as to how much money they are making to make sure their paycheck is fair. That is dumb. That is just dumb.

First, you are not even supposed to talk about your paycheck in the workplace. In many places of employment, the boss says it is against policy to discuss with other people what their salary is or what your pay is. So what we are saying to the women and to the older workforce and to members of minorities is: Now you have to figure out what is in the head of your employer. And by the way, you have 6 months.

If I were an employer in America, I would say: Hey, talk about hurting productivity.

Instead, doesn't it make sense that we should be able to show a pattern of discrimination that is reflected in a series of paychecks? Of course, it does. Who has the best knowledge as to whether someone is being discriminated against? I will guarantee you, it is not the person receiving the check. I think about the cases I represented and what kind of incredibly high bar it would have been for each one of those individuals to figure out in 180 days whether their paycheck was fair.

It is funny how people around this place talk about activist judges. I have a feeling that when we debate this issue today and tomorrow, and as this vote occurs, we won't hear a word from the other side about activist judges. This was, in fact, a Supreme Court decision that radically changed the law as we knew it, as it has been practiced in this country, as it has, in fact, been embraced by this country. This Court, by the narrowest of margins, said 5 to 4 that they were going to upset all that law and make it very difficult for people in the workplace to have their day in the bright sunshine of justice.

I am tempted to call it an activist judiciary. They are out of control. We have to do something about the judiciary. Instead, what we need to do is what we have always done in our history. We have to correct it. By the way, that decision spoke to us in terms of asking us, in the dissent, to take the steps necessary to put the law back where it was before that fateful day last summer when the Supreme Court said to the people who have been discriminated against: We are going to make it really hard for you to hold your employer accountable.

This is not a twilight zone of liability for companies. This is a situation where all the damages that someone can receive is just 2 years, regardless of how long the discrimination has gone on. Mr. President, 180 days is a very short period of time in terms of filing a complaint--much shorter than any other statute of limitations that is out there for any wrong anyone suffers in our country.

I think people need to remember how Lilly found out about this. The jury found in her favor. The EEOC found in her favor. The law was in her favor--until the Supreme Court overturned it.

How did she find out she was being discriminated against? She had been there all these years. She had started out on an even keel with the colleagues who were men. Someone slipped her an anonymous note. There is not a tote board somewhere she could have checked. Someone slipped her an anonymous note in the workplace and said: Hey, do you realize what is happening to you? You need to start asking some questions about what is happening to your pay.

This is not just about women. This is also about the older workforce. By the way, with the economy the way it is right now, under this administration, people are having to work longer. People who used to think they could retire at 62--forget about that--they are working into their late sixties, into their seventies. In fact, we have many Members in this body who are working hard every day who are well beyond their early seventies who are contributing on a daily basis to this place. Should those people be discriminated against because they are older? Should they have to figure out in 180 days that a younger colleague is making a bigger paycheck?

What about the minorities in this country? This is not just about women. This is about discrimination. We need to send a very clear signal to the rest of the country that we understand we have to fix this and we have to fix it quickly.

This is not a bunch of whining over something that is not important. That 22 cents in Missouri that a woman makes less than a man is important. It is important to pay for the gas. It is important to pay for the daycare. It is important in order to make the bills come out even.

In Missouri, the figure is that women earn 78 cents for every $1 earned by men. The median annual income for a man with a college degree in Missouri, from the years 2004 to 2006, was $59,000. For a woman with the same amount of education, it was $46,000. The American Association of University Women did that study in the State of Missouri.

We need to unite behind this legislation. This is not going to be onerous for employers out there. It is fair. It is just fair. It is what we pledge allegiance to every day in this room: equal justice for all. Let's make sure we fix this. Let's make sure we move and pass this bill and send it to the President. I will tell you what, if this President has the nerve to veto this bill, I know a lot of women in America who are going to wake up and get busy before November.

Thank you, Mr. President.

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