Fix Pay Discrimination Problem, ABA's President Tells Congress

The American Bar Association's 2007-2008 president, William H. Neukom, posted a column Monday that challenges the U.S. Senate to hold an up-or-down vote on the Fair Pay Restoration Act. "One of the most solemn promises we make in the American workplace is equal pay for equal work. It is unacceptable that any employee should receive a smaller paycheck, simply because of prejudice based on race, sex or other demographic trait," it begins.

Neukom, a Seattle lawyer, writes that the problem began last year when the U.S. Supreme Court decided Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., finding a flaw in a U.S. civil rights law and striking down a rule that had helped employees win salary discrimination cases. "The American Bar Association has never challenged the court's reasoning, but the ruling created an urgent need for Congress to repair the nation's equal-pay law," he writes. "Regrettably, Congress failed to do so last week. It is urgent that Congress not let the matter rest here. The Senate should press forward with efforts to achieve an up-or-down vote on the Fair Pay Restoration Act. Simply put, there must be no tolerance in American workplaces for salary discrimination."

Until the court's ruling, Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act was interpreted as allowing an employee to file for back pay years after the original discrimination if the discrimination was continuing. "This was because each new paycheck was treated as a new discriminatory act," Neukom writes. "The court's ruling narrowed this filing window, saying that employees must file within 180 days of the original discriminatory pay decision. As a practical matter, the decision makes it impossible for most victims of pay discrimination to seek redress because few can discover they are victims of unfair pay in such a short time.

"For more than 40 years, it has been the clear intent of Congress, and of society, to make sure that able workers doing the same work are paid equally. This noble goal should not be swept away by an unrealistic filing deadline. It is time for the Senate to pass the Fair Pay Restoration Act, and for this important measure to be enacted into law."

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