Two bills that would alleviate gender-based discrimination and make compensation more transparent passed the U.S. House on Friday. The Lilly Ledbetter Act and the Paycheck Fairness Act passed roughly down party lines, with Democrats claiming the bills would make the workplace more equitable for all workers and Republicans complaining that the bills would be a boon to trial lawyers.
Minnesota’s congressional delegation voted for the bills except for Republican Reps. Michele Bachmann, John Kline and Erik Paulsen.
The Lilly Ledbetter Act changes existing law cited in a U.S. Supreme Court decision holding that cases of discrimination in the workplace have a 180-day statute of limitations in which someone can make a claim. Lilly Ledbetter worked for Goodyear for 18 years in Alabama, and she discovered just before her retirement that she had been paid less than all of the other men in her workplace. Because she didn’t have access to her co-workers’ salaries, she had no way of knowing that they were being paid more for doing the same job.
For that reason, she couldn’t have filed a discrimination complaint within 180 days, even though the evidence showed she did indeed suffer discrimination in pay.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg made that point in her dissent in Ledbetter v. Goodyear: “The problem of concealed pay discrimination is particularly acute where the disparity arises not because the female employee is flatly denied a raise but because male counterparts are given larger raises. Having received a pay increase, the female employee is unlikely to discern at once that she has experienced an adverse employment decision. She may have little reason even to suspect discrimination until a pattern develops incrementally and she ultimately becomes aware of the disparity.”
The Lilly Ledbetter Act changes that statute of limitations. Instead of having 180 days from the time a discriminatory action is made by an employer, employees would instead have 180 days from each paycheck. Each paycheck would constitute a new action of discrimination.
The Paycheck Fairness Act makes it illegal to reprimand employees for discussing salary and compensation; it also puts gender discrimination on par with other forms of discrimination.
The Ledbetter bill passed at 247-171 and the Paycheck Fairness Act at 256-163 with almost all Republicans voting against them. House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio said it didn’t have anything to do with gender discrimination, but instead handouts to lawyers. “It’s the first step to begin rewarding the special-interest allies who helped give the Democratic Party control of Washington,” he said.