Just a little update from my post last week about the "debate" between Pat Buchanan and Rachel Maddow over the Sotomayor hearings.
Just a little update from my post last week about the "debate" between Pat Buchanan and Rachel Maddow over the Sotomayor hearings.
Please welcome Progressive Gal, a dear friend of mine who blogs at The Liberal Life of a Navy Wife. She's been my political partner in crime since she cyber-stalked me and we met for the first time in July of 2008.
Although you probably wouldn't know this from reading my political posts at MOMocrats, Glenn Nye is not really my congressman. My actual congressman, Randy Forbes, is a right wing Republican. He was also running against a Democratic candidate in 2008 who didn't have a bat's chance in hell or two nickels to rub together. So PG and I threw our efforts into the congressional race in the 2nd District between Thelma Drake and Glenn Nye. Sometimes we like to pretend that we live in his district but, alas, we do not.
When PG wrote our actual congressman about his vote regarding the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, he wrote back an email that pissed us both off. We had to reply, and so we wrote this response together.
Snark by PG, wonk by me.
With the passage of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act by both the House and Senate, we wanted to take the time to share the rationale of one Congressman who voted against it. Congressman Randy Forbes (R-Va.) is one of the 171 Congressmen who voted against equal pay for women. Here is an excerpt from his (or apparently a less able staffer's) lackluster rationale to defend his vote against women along with our critique of his arguments. The short version is: I really care about fair pay, really I do. I just don't want to take any measures that actually ensure any regulation. You'll just clog up the court system when they need to be concentrating on other things like ensuring my rights to use taxpayers' time and money to host Congressional Prayer Caucuses. It's all about family values, dontcha know?
Here is his response: The House of Representatives passed H.R. 11, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, by a vote of 247 - 171 without my support. This bill would allow employees to file charges of alleged employment discrimination within 180 days of the last paycheck received that is affected by alleged discrimination. By permitting such claims to be brought within 180 days - not of a discriminatory pay decision, but of a paycheck affected by that decision - the measure would effectively eliminate the statute of limitations on such cases. While this bill's stated intention was to improve pay equity, this ill-advised provision would almost certainly encourage the filing of claims that are not timely, and thus add to the already considerable burden on the courts. There is no evidence to suggest that the current statute of limitations has resulted in any demonstrable prejudice against claims by employees for pay discrimination.
Well, Congressman Forbes, let's talk about your "problems" with the bill.
The House of Representatives passed H.R. 11, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, by a vote of 247 - 171 without my support. This bill would allow employees to file charges of alleged employment discrimination within 180 days of the last paycheck received that is affected by alleged discrimination. By permitting such claims to be brought within 180 days - not of a discriminatory pay decision, but of a paycheck affected by that decision - the measure would effectively eliminate the statute of limitations on such cases. While this bill's stated intention was to improve pay equity, this ill-advised provision would almost certainly encourage the filing of claims that are not timely, and thus add to the already considerable burden on the courts. There is no evidence to suggest that the current statute of limitations has resulted in any demonstrable prejudice against claims by employees for pay discrimination.
1. Statute of Limitations
Congressman, you state that permitting claims to be filed within 180 days of the last paycheck affected by that decision would effectively eliminate the statute of limitations. Ummm, we're not seeing how. Once an employee leaves the company, she has 180 days to file suit. Looks like a pretty clear limitation to me.
Moreover, the "statute of limitations" effectively set by the Supreme Court case the Ledbetter legislation overturns, only permits women to recover for pay discrimination in the 180 day period before they file an EEOC complaint, no matter how long the discrimination has occurred, how the company concealed it, or how egregious the violation. This limitation effectively nullifies the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Most people don't openly discuss their salaries, particularly when starting a new job. In fact, some company policies prohibit employees from discussing their salaries with other employees. If that's the case, no employee could ever discover that they had been discriminated against in a salary decision. The Supreme Court's decision in Ledbetter v. Goodyear, effectively places the burden on the employee to prevent the pay discrimination. This burden should be on the company not the employee. The company is the only party with all of the pay information. Placing this onus on the employee effectively permits companies to discriminate at will. Is that what you mean by wanting to "ensure that businesses are able to operate in an environment where they can grown [SIC] and thrive."
2. Overburdened Courts
You also claim that the new legislation will "encourage" untimely pay discrimination suits and increase the burden on our court system. Let's talk about what "untimely" means. If a suit is filed within 180 days of a paycheck affected by a discriminatory decision, how is that untimely? See paragraph #1 if you're still confused about why it is that employees can't jump on the lawsuit bandwagon immediately after a pay decision. Pay discrimination often adds up in small increments over time, only become noticeable or "lawsuit worthy" after the period set by the Supreme Court in the Ledbetter case.
You are correct that the intent of the new legislation is to increase pay equity. Without this legislation, pay inequity will almost certainly continue. The easy fix for this is, of course, for companies to carefully consider the basis for their pay decisions and to ensure that inequity doesn't result from gender bias. You may find this surprising, but most companies don't change their practices unless they will suffer financially if they do not. Therein lies the "motivation" behind much of our country's workplace legislation.
Following your line of reasoning, perhaps we should stop prosecuting claims of civil rights violations, or maybe we should let rape and murder slide. After all, our courts are awfully busy. Where do we stop? Where is the line? When exactly is it acceptable to discriminate? Congressman Forbes, I guess you have decided the line is drawn right before women get equal pay. Thanks so much. Professional women and girls across America thank you for attempting to prevent our judicial system from becoming overburdened.
3. No Evidence of Demonstrable Prejudice
Congressman, you really saved the best for last, didn't you? You state that there has been "no demonstrable evidence" of employees prejudiced by the current statute of limitations. Amazingly, you did this without a hint of irony given the personal moniker of the Act. Who do you think Lilly Ledbetter is, Congressman? We've read her court cases. We know that the trial court did indeed find that Ms. Ledbetter was discriminated against by Goodyear in pay decision after pay decision. The 11th Circuit and the Supreme Court decided to rewrite the statute of limitations, effectively limiting Ms. Ledbetter's recovery for 20 years of discrimination to pay decisions made in 1997 and 1998. I'd call that prejudice.
Oh, and Mr. Congressman, the fact that you responded to our initial query with an email addressed to "Mister," assuming the writer was a man, does perhaps explain your indifference to women's issues. Perhaps you also assume that the absence of a "Women's Issues" link on your website's issue page is compensated for by having a "Family Values" link. Or, maybe you just don't want to highlight your dearth of support for your women constituents and hope we'll all be satisfied by you praying for us at one of your prayer caucuses or writing letters in support of funding abstinence-only sex education.
Whatever the case, we can assure you that women can, and do, follow the issues. We also read court cases, legislation, and voting records. We also happen to campaign against those politicians we feel don't share our value systems. And, we do all this while being wives and mothers.
We know you have two years until your next election, Mr. Congressman, but this is your warning notice. You've seriously pissed off these two constituents. First with your vote and then with the thin, unsubstantiated response you provided. Perhaps you don't care about the voices of two women, but we should warn you that we have big mouths, a political network of progressive women (many of whom happen to live in your district) and the motivation to make sure you aren't in office in 2011.
P.S. Please teach your staffers how to proofread if you want to be taken seriously.
Cross posted at MOMocrats, where Lawyer Mama joins other powerful lady bloggers in using her voice to call out politicians like Randy Forbes, and at The Liberal Life of a Navy Wife, where Progressive Gal does the same.
In case anyone is wondering, Glenn Nye voted for the Lily Ledbetter Equal Pay Act. Yet another reason why we are his political "groupies."
Sometimes I live in a little bubble. A comfortable little bubble with no overt racism, sexism, or even social conservatism. I'm surrounded by people who think like me. I read blogs of mostly people who think like me politically. (With a few awesomely wonderful exceptions. You know who you are!) I may make forays into the non-like minded blogging world, but it's usually just to keep abreast of what anti-Liberal propaganda is floating around out there.
I like to think there is a little more air in my bubble than, say, George W. Bush's. But sometimes I wonder if I'm just as out of touch with reality. In this case, a woman's reality.
My parents taught me, like so many other girls of my generation, that I could do anything or be anything. My gender was never an issue.
As a little girl, I played soccer on a team full of boys. I played tee ball and baseball on a team full of boys. I joined a swim team, with girls and boys. I climbed trees; I played flag football; I mowed the lawn. I took advanced math classes; I started out college majoring in Computer Science; I took the hard science classes; I went to law school.
It never mattered that I was a girl and then, a woman.
There were a couple of incidents here and there, but I chalked them up as isolated happenings and not a symptom of the larger world. I clearly recall an argument I had in my college black studies class with a fellow class mate and Male Chauvinist Pig. In our class, our discussions generally started out with race and then moved to our sheltered little college world. Or, we started out talking about our lives and then moved onto race. It was an effective teaching tool and I looked forward to our twice weekly discussions.
On this particular occasion I can't recall how the argument started, but I remember the MCP raising his hand and stating that, of course, a man was far more important to the stability and health of a relationship than a woman was because of the male earning power. He went on to say that a woman wasn't without value but that if he or his future wife wanted someone to stay home with their children, it would be her. Because, of course, Mr. MCP would be making more money.
That was like waiving a red flag in front of a bull.
I raised my hand and retorted that his argument was based on antiquated gender stereotypes, that in my future career I would undoubtedly make more money than my husband (sorry, T.) and that if one of us stayed home it would be him. Did that make *me* more important in our marriage? Then I told the class that if Mr. MCP didn't change his attitude, his importance to a marriage would become a moot point because no one would marry such a blatant misogynist.
I got a standing ovation.
So I assumed that encounters I had with future MCP's were similar and that the rest of the world was cheering me on.
Then I entered the professional world.
Before I headed off to law school, I worked for an insurance company I've mentioned here in the past. I began to notice that most of the lowest level employees were women: the claims processors, the administrative assistants, the clerks. Men who started out in the lower ranking jobs moved up more quickly, with the same experience and education. The vast majority of the upper level supervisors were men.
About this time I also started to deal with something that had happened to me in college and began actually paying attention to the world around me. What I saw was frightening. Girls and women were starving themselves to meet some strange physical ideal. I had friends and co-workers who twisted themselves up inside and completely changed their lives, interests and personalities to make their men happy.
I had begun doing volunteer work in college and, as I became more and more involved with the Violence Against Women program, I began to see what was happening outside of my little bubble. While clearly not everyone was suffering as much as the women I counseled, I saw how our society was hurting all women.
Women had lower salaries, lower expectations and more difficulties in the professional and non-professional world. We live in a "girl poisoning" culture. Sexism is rampant and deeply ingrained into our culture. It may be overt, such as sexual harassment, or it may be as subtle as the magazine covers in the grocery store.
Now that I am a lawyer, I work in an area of the law that is dominated by men. I specialize in construction litigation. I have to admit that I enjoy being underestimated by opposing counsel or opposing experts. I've always assumed that it's not because I'm a woman, but because I'm a 5'2" cute woman. I also love that there is never much of a line for the ladies' restroom at the conferences I attend.