LILLY LEDBETTER FAIR PAY ACT OF 2007--MOTION TO PROCEED--Resumed -- (Senate - April 23, 2008)
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Mr. BIDEN. Mr. President, America has come a long way in addressing discrimination in the workplace since the days my ancestors faced ``No Irish Need Apply'' signs. Yet discrimination today still exists. Even now, women still earn on average 77 cents for every dollar a man earns performing the same work. This is not fair. And with a record 70.2 million women in the workforce, this wage discrimination hurts American families across the country.
Since passage of title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, working women have been able to challenge discriminatory pay. Most appellate courts, including the Third Circuit that incorporates Delaware, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission operated under a rule that gives workers a reasonable time limit to file complaints and receive a fair hearing in our country's courtrooms.
Last year, the Supreme Court in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co., ignored the basic reality of how--and indeed, when--workers discover that they have been the victim of paycheck discrimination. The Court ruled that employees must sue within 180 days of the employer's pay decision. That Supreme Court's ruling, in the words of Justice Ginsberg, is at best a ``cramped interpretation'' of title VII and at worst reverses the hard-won gains women have made in the workplace.
As a practical matter, employees often do not know what their peers earn, the amount of annual raises, or how wages are determined. Given the typical confidentiality rules covering pay issues, the Supreme Court's ruling means that women will in many instances be shut out from recovering what they are owed after years of unfair pay. This interpretation makes title VII of the Civil Rights Act an empty promise.
The Supreme Court's decision will hurt Americans from all walks of life. It perpetuates inequality by allowing workers to receive lower pay because of their age, gender, religion, ethnicity, or disability. It threatens to stop and reverse the steady progress we have made toward job equality by letting employers off the hook for prolonged discrimination. The House took the first step toward correcting this injustice when it passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2007. The Senate now has the opportunity, and an obligation, to do the same. I am a cosponsor and strong supporter of this bill, which would simply clarify and restore the rule the country operated under before the Supreme Court's decision. That rule was strong and simple--each separate paycheck based on a previous discriminatory decision is itself an unlawful employment practice.
Mr. President, this Fair Pay Restoration Act isn't a radical change of direction. It is really nothing new. We know the consequences of the act because for years American businesses and their workers operated under the standards it restores. It will not open the floodgates for litigation or force employers to fork out exorbitant sums of money--it will just restore the rules of the game before the Court changed them. It gives Americans who are doing the same job as someone else--but for lower pay--access to courts and equality.
In today's economy, coping with a recession and a housing crisis, American workers need our help. The basic social compact that built our economy, that created our middle class, that provided opportunities for millions--that compact is breaking down. This is one small step to restore some fairness.
Mr. President, equal work should mean equal pay. I urge my colleagues to join me and restore that principle.
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