Today the U.S. House of Representatives is expected to vote on and pass two controversial bills affecting employers. Both bills have the strong support of Democrats in Congress and the incoming Obama administration.
The “Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act,” which was defeated in 2007 due to a Republican filibuster in the Senate, would effectively and drastically extend the statute of limitations for discrimination claims related to disparate pay practices. Currently, employees are required to sue within 180 days (or, in certain circumstances, 300 days) after alleged discrimination takes place under federal law. The Act would permit employees to sue for an unlimited number of past pay periods, however long ago they took place, so long as suit is initiated within 180 days of the most recent paycheck claimed to be discriminatory. The Act would overturn a 2007 decision by the United States Supreme Court based on existing law.
The “Paycheck Fairness Act” would amend the existing Fair Pay Act by requiring that employers allow their employees to share salary information with each other for purposes of rooting out gender discrimination. The Act would expressly prohibit employers from retaliating against employees who share such information, and it would make punitive damages available for the first time under the Fair Pay Act.
As both bills are expected to pass the House, it again falls on the Senate to protect employers from these attempts to placate unions and plaintiffs’ lawyers by curtailing employers’ rights. The current makeup of the Senate, however, makes another filibuster unlikely, and both bills may be conveniently teed up for President Obama’s signature soon after his January 20 inauguration.