Guaranteeing the Rights of Every American Worker


Today, the Senate may finally vote on a bill named after me which will restore the ability for average Americans to file pay discrimination cases under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other laws.

I've been struggling with this issue of pay discrimination for a long time. I was subjected to close to 20 years of pay discrimination at Goodyear. I spent years litigating to get the remedies a jury said I deserved. After the Supreme Court took away my right to sue, I testified [pdf] in front of Congress on the need to fix their decision.

In the year since that decision, I've crisscrossed the nation speaking of the impact it will have on the lives of millions of workers. Now that we are so close to a vote in the Senate, I've spent the past two days explaining - to Senators, to the media, to the public as a whole -- that a vote for this bill is a vote for the rights of every American worker.

I've told my story.

I also make the point that this bill merely restores the law to what it was before the Supreme Court ruled in my case. It's modest. The Supreme Court is the entity that so drastically reversed precedent.

Previously, every check after a discriminatory pay decision was considered an instance of discrimination. This makes a lot of sense, since the impact of pay discrimination is felt every single time you get a check with less money than you deserve. But the Court's ruling reverses this familiar and sensible rule and makes it practically impossible for people subject to pay discrimination to protect their rights.

At Goodyear, I didn't know anything about what the other male managers were making until I got an anonymous note telling me about their salaries. I went right into the EEOC after that to protest the discrimination, but according to the Supreme Court, I got the information I needed too late.

It wasn't till I filed the case that I got a full picture of just how much less I was making. At the end of my career with Goodyear, I was earning about $3700 per month, which is about 20 percent less than the lowest paid male supervisor in the same position.

This simply wasn't fair. But the Supreme Court believes that people like me should have to live with continuing discrimination if they don't immediately challenge it.

That rule doesn't reflect American values. And it doesn't value Americans' opinions either. Poll after poll has shown that equal pay for equal work continues to be the highest priority women's issue around.

This is the week of Equal Pay Day, on which we highlight the continuing pay disparities between men and women. Without the passage of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, we could be looking at continuing discrimination against women and minorities, seniors and Americans with disabilities. That is simply too high a price to pay.

The Senate has a chance to do what the House did last summer and rectify a great wrong. The Senate should make it plain in the law that each check after a discriminatory pay decision counts as an instance of discrimination. That rule would recognize that pay decisions are made in secret, that salaries are not widely known, and that the cumulative effect of pay discrimination can be great if it goes unnoticed. And it would restore the ability for average Americans to remedy discrimination.

If we're serious about making equal pay a reality, this is a critical first step.

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