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Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009--Continued

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

LILLY LEDBETTER FAIR PAY ACT OF 2009--Continued -- (Senate - January 22, 2009)


Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, equal pay for equal work is a fundamental civil right. This principle is at the heart of our Nation's commitment to fairness. When President Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act in 1963, he reminded us that protection against pay discrimination is "basic to democracy.'' Those words ring even truer today. When we inaugurated Barack Obama as our new President this week, our country strongly reaffirmed its commitment to a fairer, more just American society.

My good friend Senator Mikulski has taken an important step toward achieving this fairer, more just society by leading the debate in the Senate on the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, and I thank her for her inspir ed leadership. She has truly been a passionate advocate for women and others who have suffered the injustice of discrimination. I also commend Senator Harkin for the work he has done on this bill and on the Fair Pay Act. Senator Clinton has also been a champion for pay equity, and we pledge to continue her good work.

We must pass the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. It will give American workers who are victims of pay discrimination based on race, age, gender, national origin, religion, or disability a fair chance to enforce their rights.

As a nation, we have often acted in recent years to expand and strengthen our civil rights laws in order to end discrimination, and we have always done so with bipartisan support. The result has been great progress towards increasing equal opportunity and equal justice for all our people, and we will never abandon this basic goal.

Despite our past efforts to end pay discrimination, too many of our citizens still put in a fair day's work, but go home with less than a fair day's pay. Women, for example, bring home only 78 cents for each dollar earned by men. African American workers make only 80 percent of what White workers make and Latino workers make only 68 percent. Many qualified older workers and workers with disabilities also bear the burden of an unlawful pay gap. They are paid less than their coworkers for reasons that have nothing to do with their performance on the job.

Confronting pay discrimination is about addressing the real challenges face d by real Americans to make ends meet. These challenges have been mounting in recent months, as millions of American workers struggle even harder each day to provide for their families in this troubled economy.

Pay discrimination makes their struggle even harder. In these dire economic times, workers and their families can't afford to lose more economic ground--but that is just what is happening to thousands of Americans who still face pay discrimination.

With the economy in a severe recession, we ca nnot afford to wait to fix this problem. With women and minorities still making less than White men for the same work, we can't be complacent. With thousands of workers facing discrimination because of their race, their sex, their national origin, their age, their religion, and their disability every year, we must continue the battle to end this national disgrace.

Lilly Ledbetter's own case demonstrates the financial toll that pay discrimination can take. Lilly made 20 percent less than her lowest paid, least experienced male colleague and almost 40 percent less than her highest paid male colleague. For Lilly and other victims like her, the cost of pay discrimination over time is large. A recent study estimates that women lose an average of $434,000 over the course of their career because of the pay gap. Not only that, but their lower wages also mean their pension benefits and their Social Security benefits are lower as well. Unless we act, thousands of American workers will continue to face the same inju stice that Lilly Ledbetter has endured.

It is our common responsibility to attack this problem with every tool at our disposal. Unfortunately, the challenge has been made more difficult because of the Supreme Court's decision last May that pulled the rug out from under victims of pay discrimination by making it harder for them to stand up for their rights.

In Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company, the Supreme Court reversed decades of established law by reinterpreting existing law on equal pay and ruling that workers must file claims of pay discrimination within 180 days after an employer first acts to discriminate. Never mind that many workers, such as Ms. Ledbetter, do not know at first that they are being discriminated against. Never mind that workers often have no way to learn of the discrimination against them or gather evidence to support their suspicions because employers keep salary information confidential. Never mind that the discrimination continues each and every time an employee rec eives an unfair paycheck.

The Ledbetter decision means that many workers across our country will be forced to live without any reasonable way to hold employers accountable when they violate the law. Employers will have free rein to continue their illegal activity, and the workers who are unfairly discriminated against will have no remedy. This result defies both justice and common sense.

The American people have made clear that they are yearning for a government that promotes, not defies, justice an d common sense. We can answer this call for change by quickly passing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and restoring a clear and reasonable rule addressing how pay discrimination actually occurs in the workplace. The 180-day time period for filing a pay discrimination claim begins again on each date when a worker receives a discriminatory paycheck.

By doing so, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act ensures that employers can actually be held accountable when they break the law. Under this bill, workers can challenge ongoing discrimination as long as it continues. As long as the injustice and the damage of the discrimination continue, the right to challenge it should continue too.

The bill before us restores the rules that employers and workers had lived with for decades, until the Supreme Court upended the law in the Ledbetter case. We know these rules are fair and workable. They were the law in most of the land and had the support of the EEOC under both Democratic and Republican administrations until the Ledbetter decision. There won't be any surprises after this bill passes. As the Congressional Budget Office has stated, the bill will not increase litigation costs.

Congress must stand with American workers to reverse the Supreme Court's Ledbetter decision. Civil rights groups, labor unions, disability advocates, and religious groups from across the country support this legislation. Many responsible business owners also support it, especially, the members of the U.S. Women's Chamber of Commerce. The Ame rican people want us to act.

In her stirring dissent in the Ledbetter case, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote that ``Once again, the ball is in Congress's court.'' Nearly 2 years after she wrote those words, the ball is still in Congress's court. The House passed this important legislation last year, but the Senate dropped the ball. Now we have a new Congress and a new opportunity to master the challenge that Justice Ginsburg put to us, and we have a new President who is strongly committed to equal pay and to ending pay discrimination. I ask my colleagues to enable the march of progress on civil rights to continue. Together, let us stand with working people. Let us pass the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.


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