WASHINGTON, D.C. | January 9, 2009 -
I rise in opposition to this ill-considered and over-reaching legislation. Proponents of this bill claim it simply reverses a May 29, 2007 U.S. Supreme Court decision and clarifies congressional opposition to wage discrimination. In reality, however, this bill will set into motion a series of unintended consequences that will ripple through the economy and plague workers, small businesses, and the judicial system with a vast new legal minefield.
At the outset, let me make it clear that opposition to discrimination of any type – be it gender discrimination, racial discrimination, or any other type of discrimination inside and outside the workplace – is not confined to one party or the other. Every Member of this chamber stands in strong opposition to the unfair treatment of any worker. At the same time, I believe we must stand firmly behind a process that ensures justice for all parties – and that includes protecting against the potential for abuse and over-litigation. It is my commitment to those principles that requires me to vote no on this bill today.
For more than 40 years, Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act has made it illegal for employers to determine an employee’s pay-scale based on his or her gender. This is a principle upon which all of us – Democrats and Republicans alike – can agree. As such, current law provides that any individual wishing to challenge an employment practice as discriminatory must first file a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission within the applicable statute of limitations – which is either 180 or 300 days, depending on his or her state of employment, after the alleged workplace discrimination occurred.
The statute of limitations was clearly established in the law to encourage the timely filing of claims, which helps prevents the filing of “stale” claims and protects against abuse of the legal system. Consider these “worst-case” scenarios, for example:
- Without a statute of limitations in place, an employee could sue for pay discrimination resulting from an alleged discriminatory act that might have occurred five, ten, twenty, or even thirty or more years earlier.
- And without a statute of limitations in place, it is entirely conceivable that a worker or retiree could seek damages against a company run by employees and executives that had nothing to do with the initial act of alleged discrimination that occurred dozens of years ago.
The bill before us would dismantle this statute of limitations and replace it with a new system under which every paycheck received by the employee allegedly discriminated against starts the clock on an entirely new statute. While fair-minded in principle, this dramatic change in civil rights law would have an incredibly far-reaching impact – one that supporters of the bill have yet to take the time to thoroughly and appropriately consider. Indeed, if this bill becomes law, the worst case scenarios I just described would become commonplace. And let’s not kid ourselves: our nation’s trial lawyers would seize upon them.
Madam Speaker, this bill is not a matter of tinkering around the edges, as its supporters would have the American people believe. Rather, it is a fundamental overhaul of long-standing civil rights laws.
The last major change to these laws occurred more than fifteen years ago – and after several years of debate. Yet here we are, just hours into the 111th Congress and without having held legislative hearings, a committee markup, or even an open debate process on the floor, voting on a highly-flawed bill without any regard to its long-term ramifications.
I am opposed to discrimination in the workplace and I believe that workers must have a protected right to avail themselves of legal protections when such discrimination occurs. That right exists today in carefully crafted civil rights law that ensures fairness and justice for all parties.
Unfortunately, the bill before us is neither fair nor just, and for that reason, I will oppose it. I urge my colleagues to do likewise, and I reserve the balance of my time.
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