by Fatima Gross Graves, Senior Counsel
National Women’s Law Center
Today I attended the Senate HELP Committee hearing on the Fair Pay Restoration Act where Lilly Ledbetter and two other witnesses testified in support of the bill. The room was packed and silent as everyone listened to Ms. Ledbetter tell her story of nearly 20 years of harassment and pay discrimination.
I was particularly struck by an exchange between Ms. Ledbetter and Sen. Barbara Mikulski. The Senator made the very real point that it isn’t easy for plaintiffs to bring discrimination lawsuits — Ms. Ledbetter had personal, financial and psychological costs for sure. Now I know the anti-trial lawyer mantra is that “frivolous lawsuits” are destroying the economy — the world even. And even I followed the sensational story of the $67 million dollar lawsuit over lost dry cleaning.
But Ms. Ledbetter’s story points out how the odds were already stacked against plaintiffs in pay discrimination suits and now the Supreme Court has made it even harder. Unlike many forms of discrimination, pay discrimination is not announced. Yet the Supreme Court has held that plaintiffs must bring pay discrimination claims within 6 months of the discriminatory pay decision. Could you imagine that being your first act as an employee on the job?
The Fair Pay Restoration Act would reverse the Court’s nonsensical decision and restore order and fairness to the workplace by reinstating the “paycheck accrual rule,” under which each discriminatory paycheck is treated as an act of discrimination that triggers the 180 day statute of limitations under Title VII. After hearing the compelling testimony, let’s hope the Senate acts swiftly.
Looking to weigh in? Our legal community letter in support of the Fair Pay Restoration Act is the perfect way to become involved. Our goal is to gather support from 1,000 lawyers (and law students) before this bill is debated on the Senate floor.