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Wage discrimination bill passes in Senate

Allows more time for workers to file

By Jim Abrams
Associated Press / January 23, 2009
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WASHINGTON - A wage discrimination bill that heralds the pro-labor policies of the Democratic-controlled Congress and White House cleared the Senate yesterday and could be on President Obama's desk within days.

The legislation reverses a 2007 Supreme Court ruling that narrowly defines the time period during which a worker can file a claim of wage discrimination, even if the worker is unaware for months or years that he or she is getting less than colleagues doing the same job.

The House is expected to act quickly to again approve the measure, sending it to Obama for his signature. The House passed it two weeks ago but then combined it with another bill that the Senate didn't consider.

Obama strongly backs the measure and invited Lilly Ledbetter, the retired Alabama tire company worker whose lawsuit inspired the legislation, to accompany him on the train trip bringing him to Washington for the inauguration.

George W. Bush threatened to veto the bill when it came up in the past, and last year it died in the Senate.

The House approved the legislation during the first week of the new session of Congress, signaling that labor rights bills that made little headway during the Bush administration will be at the top of the agenda this year. The bill paves the way for considering more controversial labor measures, including one that would take away a company's right to demand a secret ballot when workers are seeking to organize.

The Ledbetter bill would clarify that every paycheck resulting from discrimination would constitute a new violation, extending the 180-day statute of limitations for filing a claim. The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision denying Ledbetter's complaint, ruled that a worker must file a claim within 180 days of the initial decision to pay a worker less, even if the worker did not discover the pay disparity until years later.

Ledbetter, who was in the Capitol to watch the debate, said it was only at the end of her 19-year career at a Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. plant in Gadsden, Ala. - when someone left an anonymous note in her mailbox - that she became aware that she was getting paid less than her male counterparts.

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