Democrats in the Senate failed Wednesday to muster a 60-vote majority for S. 1843, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.
If the bill had passed, it would have reversed the effects of a May 2007 U.S. Supreme Court decision that restricted workers’ ability to file suits over allegations of pay discrimination resulting from discrimination based on race, sex, religion or national origin.
Supreme Court justices ruled 5-4 that the 1964 Civil Rights Act required Lily Ledbetter, a rubber plant supervisor, to file a pay discrimination suit within 180 days after the discrimination was said to have occurred.
In July 2007, the House voted 225-199 to pass a bill easing the pay discrimination suit restrictions.
Ledbetter bill supporters in the Senate needed a 60-vote majority to block the threat of a filibuster, or potentially never-ending period of debate, and get the bill to the floor.
Only 6 Republican senators voted for sending the bill to the floor; and only 1 Democrat voted against sending the bill to the floor.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., ended up voting against sending the bill to the floor so that he would have standing to ask for a revote.
Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., says the Ledbetter ruling leaves a “gaping loophole” in civil rights laws.
“Our legislation closes this loophole by making clear that as long as the discrimination continues, a worker’s right to challenge it continues as well,” Kennedy says.
President Bush has threatened to veto the bill if it reaches his desk.
“The bill far exceeds the stated purpose of undoing the court’s decision,” and could effectively waive the statute of limitations in pay discrimination cases, White House officials say in a statement.
The American Benefits Council, Washington, which represents large employers, urged senators to reject the bill in its present form.
The proposed bill could raise “serious retirement plan issues that we believe are unresolved in the current draft,” the council writes in the letter.
Under the bill, each payment of compensation on benefits that is lower as a result of past discrimination is deemed a new act of discrimination, the council writes.
“Thus, an employee could file a charge or sue many years after the original action giving rise to the claim actually occurred,” the council writes.