The fight for fair pay

Now that Republicans have blocked a wage discrimination bill, maybe it's time to start talking about our salaries.


James Hannaham
April 25, 2008 6:35PM (UTC)

If you'd like to stare inequality in the face, look no further than the Senate. On Wednesday, Republicans blocked a House-approved bill to reverse the Supreme Court ruling on the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act (written about previously on Broadsheet). The bill would make it easier for employees to sue companies for discriminatory pay practices, and its failure to pass proves that lame ducks can still do damage to women's and workers' rights before the end of the Butch administration. Both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama interrupted their campaigns to vote for the bill; John McCain did not return to Washington to vote on it. The ruling is a blow to those who believe in equal pay for equal work, especially since it means the bill will not resurface before the inauguration of the next president.

However, one woman's setback is another's opportunity. The current terms of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission state that complainants must file within 180 days of the setting of the pay rate. Those who voted against the bill feared that eliminating this statute of limitations would bring a crippling onslaught of discrimination cases. So, at the very least, they acknowledge that there's a huge problem when women are paid, on average, 23 percent less than men, and that a lot of women will want to sue their boss's pants off when they find out the truth. The law currently requires those who have been shortchanged for more than 180 days to hold their peace for a while, but shouldn't this ruling kick all those 179-day people into action? Assuming the glass ceiling is really glass, doesn't that also make it transparent and fragile? If the only obstacle to rooting out discrimination in the workplace is, as many have observed, that people don't talk about salaries, there's no time like the present to talk about salaries. Easier said than done, of course, but assuming that one's co-workers or human resource departments will consent to disclosure at all, it could even be accomplished relatively anonymously. Voilà -- equality for the 180-day hires, vicarious catharsis for the rest. For now.

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James Hannaham

James Hannaham is a staff writer at Salon.

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