It appears that Republicans, with a few exceptions, don't believe pay discrimination for women exists. Or if they do, they are happy to live with it. That is about the only conclusion to be drawn from the successful Republican effort to block Senate consideration of a bill that would put teeth back into the law against pay discrimination.
In one of its most disappointing opinions of its last term, Ledbetter vs. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., the U.S. Supreme Court changed the way pay discrimination claims are considered. In its
5-4 ruling, the court said that Lilly Ledbetter, who had been a supervisor at a Goodyear plant in Gadsden, Ala., could not pursue a pay discrimination claim because she had filed it too late.
Ledbetter had been awarded $223,776 by a jury for back pay, and more in additional damages. Documents showed she had earned as much as 40 percent less than her male counterparts. But the high court set aside the awards and said that because Ledbetter didn't file a claim within 180 days of the company's initial decision to pay her less, she was out of luck.
The ruling was absurd, as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg suggested in a vigorous dissent. Ginsburg pointed out that typically co-workers don't know each other's salaries. The court's decree meant that an employer who is able to hide his gender discrimination for six months is home free. He can continue to pay a female employee less for her entire career without having to worry about legal action under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.
Before this ruling, a much more sensible approach to pay discrimination was used in which each undervalued paycheck would count as a new infraction, allowing the 180-day claim-filing clock to start again.
The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act would simply put the law back to where it had been before the ruling. The bill wouldn't have helped Ledbetter, but it would have made it possible again to bring a pay discrimination claim whenever the disparities are discovered during the course of employment.
Both Democratic presidential primary candidates returned to Washington to support the bill, while Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, missed the vote. McCain said he would have voted with the bulk of his party in opposition to the measure.
The Fair Pay Act is a simple fix that should have been noncontroversial and universally supported. That it wasn't says quite a bit about the current priorities of the Republican Party.