Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid filed cloture Monday on H.R. 2831, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2007, which supporters claim restores the ability of employees to sue for pay discrimination, supposedly abrogated by the Supreme Court's ruling in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. (U.S. Supreme Court 2007).
As the NAM summary of the case explains, what the court actually did was uphold the law that set a 180-day statute of limations for filing employment discrimination actions with the EEOC. Congress knew what it was doing when it wrote the law, the court said: "Congress clearly intended to encourage the prompt processing of all charges of discrimination." Eliminating a statute of limitations would open up employers to potentially decades of increasingly difficult-to-defend litigation. Memories fade, people die, and yet the lawsuits carry on....and on....
Just as importantly, the 180-day requirement also compels employers and employees both to address real discrimination with a sense of urgency. Sometimes it takes an EEOC complaint to make management aware of a problem.
The legislation goes too far in other ways. The NAM sent a "Key Vote" letter (text here) to the Senate today, which notes, "[The bill] would grant standing for the first time to not just employees but those potentially 'affected by' discrimination. It would also broaden the bill's reach to cover unintentional (disparate impact) discrimination suits and allow retirees to file claims over actions that took place decades earlier." Wow. "Affected by" discrimination -- bet that would be creatively interpreted.
Expect a vote Wednesday, which allows a full day of rallies and fulminating today, Equal Pay Day -- the day that women supposedly have to work into 2008 to equal men's 2007 pay. Organized labor is observing the day, as are the National Organization for Women and other activists who want government to set wages.
The last time Senator Kennedy orchestrated a big vote to coincide with rallies and other observances was in June, when he brought H.R. 800 to the floor. That was the Employee Free Choice Act, labor's No. 1 priority, which would replace secret ballots in union representation elections with the intimidation-inviting card-check process. No one expected the measure to gain cloture -- and it didn't, falling short by a 51-48 vote -- but the Senator maximized the PR value with his timing. Same thing this week with the Ledbetter legislation.
So consider Senate action on this terrible bill to be the raising of a flag as organized labor and a band of employment lawyers watch, marking on their checklists who salutes -- and who will be rewarded and punished accordingly.