WASHINGTON, DC - House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (MD) spoke on the House Floor today in support of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:
“The value of work lies in a job well done, not in the gender of the worker. I don’t think there is a man or woman in this chamber who would disagree—but all too often in America, sexism cheats women out of equal pay and equal worth. It still robs women of their equal right to earn a livelihood, provide for their families, and secure the dignity of their labor. And it does much of its worst work in the dark.
“That, as so many of us know by now, is what happened to Lilly Ledbetter. For almost two decades, from 1979 to 1998, she was a hardworking tire plant supervisor. And for much of her career, she suffered from two kinds of discrimination simultaneously. There was sexual harassment, from a manager who said to her face that women didn’t belong in a factory, to the supervisor who tried to coerce her into sex. And there was pay discrimination: By the end of her career, she was making nearly $7,000 less than the lowest-paid man in the same position.
“Both kinds of discrimination were founded on the belief that women in the workplace are second-class citizens. But of the two, the unfair pay may have been the most damaging, because it was a kind of secret theft that went on year after year. Ms. Ledbetter might have been in the dark to this day, if an anonymous co-worker had not given her proof of what her employers were doing to her.
“Such silent discrimination is surprisingly common, because it is so difficult to identify. After all, how many of us know the salaries of our coworkers? At some companies, you can be fired for even asking.
“Lilly Ledbetter took her employer to court, but the Supreme Court finally ruled against her. Not because she was making it all up, but because she had failed to file suit 180 days after her first unfair paycheck. In their ruling, the Justices set a nearly impossible hurdle for workers: You have six months to find out you’re being paid unfairly, or you’re out of luck for a lifetime.
“The Court’s flawed ruling ignored the real-world facts of discrimination, and had the potential to harm thousands of women beyond Lilly Ledbetter, leaving victims of pay discrimination without any recourse. As Justice Ginsburg put it in her strong dissent: ‘Pay disparities often occur…in small increments; cause to suspect that discrimination is at work develops only over time. Comparative pay information, moreover, is often hidden from the employee’s view….Small initial discrepancies may not be seen as meet for a federal case, particularly when the employee, trying to succeed in a nontraditional environment, is averse to making waves.’
“‘The ball,’ Ginsburg concluded, ‘is in Congress’s court….The legislature may act to correct this Court’s parsimonious reading.’
“And that is the aim of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. This bill gives employees a fair time limit to take action against discrimination. The 180-day limit will still stand, but the clock is reset after each unfair paycheck—not simply the first one. And that change fits our common-sense understanding of pay discrimination: It is not a single act, but an ongoing practice that is renewed every time the employer signs an unfair paycheck.
“Mr. Speaker, pay discrimination, anywhere, is an attack on the dignity of every woman in every workplace in America. When workers face unfair pay, they should find us standing on their side—
not throwing up technicalities and roadblocks on the way to equality. For that reason, I urge my colleagues to support this bill.”