Merkley: Congress Must Act to Protect Victims of Employment Discrimination

Washington, DC – Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley signed onto two bills today to ensure fairness to those facing unfair job discrimination.  The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act and the Paycheck Fairness Act are the first two bills Merkley has co-sponsored as a U.S. Senator.

“At a time when so many Americans are hurting due to an economic recession, Congress must do everything possible to make sure workers are getting a fair shake.   These bills will restore the balance to the relationship between workers and employers and make sure that discrimination does not go unchecked,” said Merkley. 

The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act is a response to the Supreme Court’s 2007 Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. decision.  While a lower court found that Lilly Ledbetter had suffered from pay discrimination by Goodyear for years, the Supreme Court threw out her case because she had not filed suit within six months of the first discriminatory paycheck.  Today’s legislation restores Congress’ original intent and allows the victims of discrimination to seek compensation even if they only discover the discrimination later. 

Similarly, while Congress acted decades ago to prohibit employment discrimination on account of sex, the courts have subsequently interpreted the law so broadly as to include an almost limitless number of factors for wage disparities so long as they are not explicitly sex-based, tacitly accepting wage disparities that are in fact based on sex.  At a time when women who work full time, year-round, still make only 78 cents for every dollar that a man makes (and when women are increasingly the primary breadwinners for many families), it is critical that the law is strong enough to address clear cases of discrimination.

The Paycheck Fairness Act would close the loopholes that allow employment discrimination to go unchecked while improving the remedies available and prohibiting retaliatory action by employers.

Congress is expected to vote on both of these bills as early as next week.

“A company should not be able to get away with pay discrimination by keeping that discrimination well hidden from employees, and courts should not look the other way when such discrimination clearly occurs,” said Merkley.  “I’m proud to join the effort to provide relief to victims of discrimination and proud that these bills to help working Americans are the first ones I’m co-sponsoring as Oregon’s Senator.”