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Public Statements

Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC



Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, I'm proud to join Senator Mikulski in introducing this legislation. Equal pay for equal work is a fundamental civil right. Over the past 4 decades, America has made enormous progress toward ensuring that all its people have an equal chance to enjoy the benefits of this great Nation. Bipartisan civil rights bills have been enacted to expand and strengthen the law to ensure fair pay for all workers. Despite these advances, civil rights is still America's unfinished business. It is therefore fitting that we open the 111th Congress with introduction of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.

This bill will restore the basic right of all workers, regardless of their race, sex, religion, national origin, age, or disability, to be paid fairly, free from discrimination. It will restore workers' rights to challenge ongoing discrimination and hold unscrupulous employers accountable.

This legislation is needed because the Supreme Court turned back our Nation's progress on equal pay with its Ledbetter decision, which undermined a core protection of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and overturned decades of precedent that had established a fair, workable rule for challenging pay discrimination claims.

This needed bill will restore the long-standing rule that each discriminatory paycheck is a separate wrong that may be challenged by workers within the required period after receiving the check. In the Ledbetter case, a jury had found that Lilly Ledbetter was paid less than her male coworkers because she was a woman. The jury awarded back pay to Ms. Ledbetter, but the Supreme Court reversed that award, holding that she had waited too long and should have filed her lawsuit within a short time after Goodyear first began discriminating against her. Never mind that the company discriminated against her for decades, and that the discrimination continued with each new paycheck she received.

Far too often, workers like Lilly Ledbetter put in a fair day's work, but go home with less than a fair day's pay. Women, African-American, and Latino workers all earn a fraction of what white male workers make. Many qualified older workers and workers with disabilities also are paid less than their coworkers for reasons unrelated to their performance on the job.

It's more important than ever that we attack the problem of pay discrimination and correct the injustice caused by the Ledbetter decision. In the current economic crisis, millions of American workers are struggling to make ends meet. Pay discrimination makes that struggle harder, and workers can't afford to lose more economic ground. To protect these workers, we must move quickly to pass the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.

I urge my colleagues, Republicans and Democrats alike, to do so, and to send a strong signal that this new Congress is dedicated to standing up for fairness and equality in the workplace. The Lilly Ledbetters of our Nation deserve no less.


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