January 24, 2008

ACLU applauds Senator Kennedy for making employment protections a civil rights priority

Contact: media@dcaclu.org

Washington, DC – The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee held a hearing today on S. 1843, the "Fair Pay Restoration Act," which would ensure that victims of workplace discrimination receive effective remedies. The bill’s companion measure, H.R. 2831, passed the House of Representatives in July, 2007. The ACLU urges the committee to support S. 1843 in order to fix a recent Supreme Court decision that undermines protections against discrimination in compensation that have been bedrock principles of civil rights laws for decades.

Testifying at the hearing was Lilly Ledbetter, the woman at the center of last year’s Supreme Court decision Ledbetter v. Goodyear, in which the 5-4 majority held that workers cannot sue for the later effects of past wage discrimination. Ms. Ledbetter was the victim of pay discrimination during her nearly twenty years of employment at Goodyear Tire, but the Supreme Court decided she did not have a valid claim because she hadn’t filed her complaint within 180 days of Goodyear’s initial discriminatory pay decision. Not only was it not immediately apparent to her when the pay discrimination began, but her employer kept it secret, willfully preventing her from gathering the information necessary to file a complaint within 180 days.

"The Fair Pay Restoration Act will ensure employers aren’t let off the hook because they’re able to keep unfair pay decisions hidden from their workers," said Deborah J. Vagins, ACLU Policy Counsel for Civil Rights. "Correcting the Ledbetter decision would restore Congress’ legislative intent, as well as the commonsense law that prevailed before the Supreme Court’s ruling. This legislation reaffirms a fundamental principle of our civil rights protections – providing justice to individuals who have suffered because of unlawful employment practices. Responsible employers know that discrimination hurts their bottom line because businesses thrive on the talent and creativity that a fairly treated workforce provides."

"This bill is a modest and logical fix to an ongoing civil rights problem," continued Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. "American workers should know that they are protected from wage discrimination and are able to challenge such discrimination when they discover it. There should be no benefit to employers in keeping pay discrimination hidden. The ACLU thanks Chairman Kennedy and Ranking Member Enzi for holding this hearing, and strongly urges the committee to support this legislation."

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