In a bizarre ruling, a narrow Supreme Court majority decided last year that Americans who face wage discrimination only have 180 days to challenge the
April 23, 2008

In a bizarre ruling, a narrow Supreme Court majority decided last year that Americans who face wage discrimination only have 180 days to challenge the initial discrimination in court. In other words, if your employer is paying you less money for equal work, and you don’t find about the discrepancy until seven months after the problem began, you can’t contest this in court.

The House already passed a measure to improve workers’ rights in this area, and the Senate was poised to do the same. A bipartisan majority supported the legislation, but they couldn’t overcome Republican obstructionism.

Senate Republicans on Wednesday blocked a measure intended to overturn a Supreme Court decision limiting pay discrimination suits in a politically charged vote certain to be replayed in the presidential and Congressional campaigns.

By a vote of 56 to 42, the Senate fell four votes short of the 60 required to begin consideration of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, named for an Alabama woman who lost a case against the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company when the court found she not did file her complaint in time. Ms. Ledbetter had been paid as much as 40 percent less than her male counterparts doing the same job, according to her allies.

Looking at the final roll call, the measure had the support of 57 senators (Harry Reid switched his vote for procedural reasons, giving him the ability to bring the bill back to the floor before the end of the session). Every Democrat and both independents (Lieberman and Sanders) supported the measure, along with six Republicans, four of whom (Coleman, Collins, Smith, and Sununu) are facing tough re-election fights this year.

What a remarkable coincidence — Republicans sure do get more moderate on good legislation when they’re worried about losing their seats.

As for the rest of the Republican caucus, they relied on some pretty ridiculous arguments to oppose the bill.

This one was especially striking.

…Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and other Republicans said the bill, which is opposed by the business community and the Bush administration, could create a flood of lawsuits.

“We think that this bill is primarily designed to create a massive amount of new litigation in our country,” said Mr. McConnell, the minority leader.

Well, actually, yes. But therein lies the point — if American workers are facing unjust wage discrimination, they should be more lawsuits. Those are worthwhile lawsuits, challenging an injustice. Ideally, employers would stop discriminating, and in turn, there’d be fewer lawsuits. It’s about creating an incentive.

As for the politics of this, both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama came back to the Senate to vote for and speak out on behalf of this legislation. And what about John McCain? He didn’t show up for work (again), but he made a point of telling reporters he’s against the legislation: “In New Orleans today, McCain explained his opposition to the bill by claiming it ‘opens us up to lawsuits for all kinds of problems.’ He added that instead of legislation allowing women to fight for equal pay, they simply need ‘education and training.’”

It’s almost as if he doesn’t want women to vote for him.

One last thought: was this bill really worth filibustering? Was the legislation so offensive to the Republican minority that they couldn’t even allow an up-or-down vote on a measure to protect pay-equality in the workplace?

Or did a bunch of corporate lobbyists show up at Republican lawmakers’ offices, demanding that they shut this down?

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