SEMA eNews Vol. 12, No. 2, January 15, 2009

U.S. House Passes Two Pay-Discrimination Bills

The U.S. House of Representatives passed two priority bills for labor in the opening days of the new Congress. The bills are titled the “Ledbetter Fair Pay Act” and the “Paycheck Fairness Act.”

The first bill would overturn a 2007 Supreme Court ruling that enforced a 180-day statute of limitations for filing a pay discrimination complaint. At issue was a lawsuit brought by Lilly Ledbetter, a 20-year supervisor at a Goodyear tire plant who discovered shortly before retirement that she was making about 15% less than 15 male counterparts performing similar work at the facility. A jury found in her favor, but the Supreme Court overturned the jury decision based on the 180-day filing restriction.

The legislation would relax the statute of limitations and clarify that discrimination could be alleged each time a paycheck is issued. The paycheck would represent a new violation based on the original discrimination. SEMA is working with the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to oppose the bill since it would open the door to frivolous litigation and expose employers to decades old, open-ended lawsuits without time limits.

The second bill would make it easier for women to prove violations of the Equal Pay Act, which generally requires equal pay for equal work. Under current law, employers can legally pay women less than men if it is justified by factors, such as more education, training or experience. The Paycheck Fairness Act would require employers to go one step further and demonstrate that paycheck inequity is not gender-based.

It would also bar employers from punishing workers who discuss salaries with their co-workers. SEMA has joined NAM and the Chamber in opposing the legislation since current law already provides effective protection against discrimination, and the bill would expose employers to increased threats of litigation.

The Senate is expected to consider the bills in the near future. President-Elect Obama intends to sign the legislation into law if it is passed by the Senate. For additional information, contact Brian Duggan at briand@sema.org.

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