Washington, DC—Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid made the following statement today on the floor of the U.S. Senate before voting for the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which would reversed a Supreme Court decision that turns back the clock on civil rights protections for workers who face discrimination based on age, race, gender, national origin, religion or disability. Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:
“For a woman to make the same as a man does in one year for similar work in America, she must work not only that year – but 113 days into the next year. In fact, women who work full time earn about 77 cents for every dollar earned by men who do the same job. That is why yesterday, April 22nd – the 113th day of the year – was Equal Pay Day.
“I can think of no better way for us to honor Equal Pay Day than to pass the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act into law. Lilly Ledbetter was a manager at a Goodyear factory in Gadsden, Alabama, for twenty years. The only woman among 16 employees at her management level, Ms. Ledbetter was paid between 15 and 40 percent less than all of her male colleagues. That included several colleagues who had significantly less seniority.
“As with most offices, salary was not a topic that was regularly discussed. It wasn’t until she had been with the company for twenty years that Ms. Ledbetter became aware of the disparity in her paycheck – and only then because someone anonymously tipped her off. She had no alternative but to seek redress for these wrongs by going to court.
“A jury in the northern district of Alabama found that she had been discriminated against because she is a woman and awarded her full damages. Her employer appealed to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, which overturned the lower court’s verdict, claiming that she was entitled to nothing because she waited too long to file her claim. The United States Supreme Court upheld that decision.
“The Supreme Court held that the 180 day filing deadline for discrimination cases like hers should be calculated from the day of Ms. Ledbetter’s first discriminatory paycheck. This ruling reversed the position that most courts had previously held, that each discriminatory paycheck represents a new case of discrimination, and therefore, that the 180 day filing period applies to each subsequent paycheck.
“The practical result of this Supreme Court decision is that women like Lilly Ledbetter must sue for discrimination no later than six months after their employment begins – six months from her first paycheck. The Supreme Court’s ruling puts unfair conditions on legitimate discrimination claims. And it applies not only to millions of women in the workforce, but also those discriminated against on the basis of race, religion, age or disability.
“As Justice Ginsburg noted in her strong and compelling dissent, the Supreme Court’s ruling is wrong because it overlooks the realities of the workplace – the realities of the world. Many employers explicitly or implicitly prohibit their employees from discussing their salary with coworkers. Could Ms. Ledbetter be expected to have known the salaries of her male colleagues after just six months on the job? Of course not. And even if a new employee is aware of a discrepancy in pay, many choose not to make waves, preferring to quietly build job security.
“But over the years, these initial discrepancies – which may start out small – will often widen considerably – in Lilly Ledbetter’s case, to as much as 40 percent. The Supreme Court’s ruling ignores these basic facts. As long as discrimination continues, an employee’s right to challenge that discrimination should continue as well.
“That is why the legislation now before us is so important. It would restore the previously accepted interpretation of the law – that each and every discriminatory paycheck constitutes a new act of discrimination that restarts the 180-day clock. By supporting the motion to proceed and voting in favor of this legislation, we have the opportunity to correct this important injustice for millions of women and others who work hard but are unfairly deprived of the compensation they deserve.
“Some on the Republican side argue that this legislation would lead to a flood of new litigation. That argument has no basis in fact whatsoever. The Congressional Budget Office has researched this issue and found no reason to believe that it would increase the number of discrimination cases. Furthermore, this legislation maintains the current law’s two-year limit on back pay. Employers would not be liable for salary differences that occurred years in the past.
“The United States Supreme Court is the highest court in our country. But in this case, they simply got it wrong – and this is not the first time that has happened since Justices Roberts and Alito joined the court. Many of us have spoken out against recent Supreme Court nominees for fear that they would not uphold our nation’s proud tradition of civil and equal rights in law. This faulty judgment reminds us of what is at stake – and why we need judges who will support the values of equality that we cherish.
“There is no reason for the Fair Pay Act to be a partisan issue. I strongly urge my Republican colleagues to join Democrats in sending a strong and powerful message – that in America, discrimination will never be tolerated and justice will always be blind. But no matter the result today, that message – and our commitment to those enduring values – will continue.”