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Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2007--Motion to Proceed--Resumed

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

LILLY LEDBETTER FAIR PAY ACT OF 2007--MOTION TO PROCEED--Resumed -- (Senate - April 23, 2008)


Mr. KERRY. Mr. President, Lilly Ledbetter was the only female manager working alongside 15 men at a Goodyear tire plant in Gadsden, AL. One day, she learned that, for no good reason, she had been receiving hundreds of dollars less per month than her male colleagues--even those with far less seniority.

Unfortunately, the wrongs done to Lilly Ledbetter are familiar to far too
many women who work every bit as hard as men do but take home a smaller paycheck.

We must continue to fight to guarantee equal pay for women everywhere and justice for those women who are discriminated against.

It is disgraceful that women still make just 77 cents for every dollar earned by men. In fact, yesterday marked Equal Pay Day--the symbolic day on which a woman's average pay catches up to a man's average earnings from the previous year. Think of all the hours of work done since January 1--those are hours that women have worked just to bring home the same amount of money as a man. It is equivalent to months of working with no pay--something I am sure the bosses doling out unequal paychecks wouldn't stand.

Unequal pay for women is an injustice whose poison works on multiple levels. Women aren't just paid less for doing the same work--they are also given a none-too-subtle message that their thoughts and efforts are less valued just because of their gender.

I have two wonderful daughters, Alex and Vanessa. Alex is a filmmaker and Vanessa is a doctor. If it weren't for the women who came and marched before them, they wouldn't have had the access to high school and college sports that made such a difference in their development. But that cause isn't yet complete. The progress isn't yet perfected. We are fighting today so that they are never told that a man deserves a penny more for doing the same hard work they have done.

In the face of injustice, Lilly Ledbetter and many women like her have had the courage to stand up to sexist bosses, demand her legal right to equal pay for equal work, and say ``enough is enough.'' The trial was difficult, but Lilly stood strong--and the jury awarded her a large legal settlement.

Then Lilly's case ran head-on into a group of men--and one woman--above whose heads she could not appeal: the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court's 5-to-4 ruling went against common sense and most people's sense of basic fairness. They ruled that the Equal Rights Act of 1964 requires an employee to file a discrimination claim within 180 days of a boss's decision to discriminate--rather than 180 days from the last discriminatory paycheck. Amazingly, Lilly Ledbetter didn't just lose her settlement and her standing to seek justice--she also lost future retirement benefits which will now be awarded according to decades of discriminatory pay.

The ruling goes against common sense and the practical realities of the workplace. It goes against our basic sense of fairness. People often don't know what their colleagues are being paid and thus don't find out for some time that they are being discriminated against. Many never find out at all that they have been discriminated against for a lifetime—and many who do choose to stay quiet rather than rock the boat, confront their bosses, or be perceived as angry when they have every right to be.

As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote, ``In our view, the court does not comprehend, or is indifferent to, the insidious way in which women can be victims of pay discrimination.'' The Court's only woman took the rare and defiant step of delivering her eloquent dissent out loud.

Five male Justices denied justice to thousands of women who could now be denied legal standing in similar cases, not because these women hadn't been discriminated against but because too much time had passed between the moment when their bosses started discriminating against them and the moment they either found out about it or took action to stop it. In effect, it rewards bosses for stringing out their deceit.

One of these five male Justices was Samuel Alito--against whose hasty confirmation I waged a lonely filibuster battle for which I was widely criticized back in 2006. Back then, I worried and warned that Alito would create a 5-to-4 majority to deny hard-working Americans their day in court. Which is exactly what happened to Lilly Ledbetter. I don't regret my filibuster one bit--it was an important statement drawing a line in the sand against this administration's radical judicial nominees. I just wish we could have won that fight.

Would Sandra Day O'Connor, the woman Alito replaced, have voted this way? I strongly suspect not. And so, with Sam Alito's decisive vote, our judicial branch struck a major blow against justice, against fair treatment for all, and against women's rights. The good news is that Congress still makes the laws--and we have the opportunity to make clear the intent of our fair pay laws and ensure that female victims of pay discrimination have their day in court.

The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act clarifies what the Court ought to have known--that the laws against pay discrimination apply to every paycheck a worker receives--not to the moment a boss begins discriminating. A person only gets 180 days to file a discrimination claim--and the clock should be reset to zero every time a discriminatory paycheck goes out. We should make it easier for discrimination to be rooted out not harder.

Businesses have nothing to fear from this bill--unless they are acting disgracefully, in which case they should be afraid--they should be very afraid. But employers will not be asked to make up for salary difference from decades ago--current law, rightly or wrongly, limits backpay awards to 2 years before the worker filed a job discrimination claim. This bill wouldn't change that limit.

We should and must do whatever we can to chip away at discrepancies that still exist in pay between men and women. When the Equal Pay Act of 1963 passed, women were making 59 cents a dollar. Forty five years later, that number is 77 cents. In other words, women are narrowing the gap by less than half a penny a year. We must do better.

If I am lucky enough to have them, I don't want my future granddaughters and great-granddaughters to wait another 45 years for equal wages.

In so many ways, discriminatory pay contributes to our worst shortcomings as a society. It discriminates against children in poverty--who are far more likely than other children to be raised by single mothers. It also discriminates against women of color--who are more likely to live in households without a male income-earner.

Each paycheck and each discriminatory raise compounds injustice upon injustice. Unfortunately, the pay gap runs across industries and education levels. This isn't something that fixes itself at higher levels of income. Comparing men and women with comparable education, work title, and experience, over the course of their lives, women with a high school diploma earn $700,000 less. Women with a college diploma earn $1.2 million less. And women with advanced degrees earn $2 million less over time.

To our enduring shame, it was once true that American slaves were treated as three-fifths of a human being. But it remains true today that women are paid as just three-quarters of a man.

We can't unravel or erase hateful attitudes toward women in a single day or with a single vote. But we have a bill before us today that will restore women's right to seek equal justice under the law. We should pass the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act today and do all that we can to live according to the truth that, while self-evident to Thomas Jefferson, remains elusive to employers everywhere: that all of us are created equal.

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