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."