Saturday, May 03, 2014

Why aren't the existing laws prohibiting pay discrimination adequate?

Equal pay for equal work should have been protected by the Civil Rights Act and the Equal Pay Act, both enacted in the 60’s. But each had a weakness that the courts allowed employers to take advantage of.

The Civil Rights Act was interpreted by the Supreme Court in a way that made the protection impossible to use. The Supreme Court said that the victim must identify the discrimination within 180 days of its first occurrence. That’s not a practical possibility and it was not what the legislators had intended. So, they changed the law so that the victim must complain within 180 days of the occurrence of any discrimination rather than only the first occurrence of discrimination. This correction was the Lily Ledbetter Act.

The Equal Pay Act also allowed discriminating employers to win in court. The Equal Pay Act said that every employee should be given equal pay for equal work except when the unequal pay is the result of a “factor other than sex.” There are factors that justify paying one person more than another although they perform equal work. However, the Equal Pay Act didn’t require that the factor, identified by the employer, must be a legitimate business reason, which is not discriminatory. Seniority is a valid factor. Being unmarried is not a valid factor. So, the Paycheck Fairness Act is intended to ensure that the “factor other than sex” is a valid, non-discriminatory factor.

The courts don’t always decide a case based on the spirit of the law. Sometimes they are willing to ignore the original intent and accept arguments that are technically correct even though they violate the intent of the law. The Supreme Court is always asked to rule on the “intent” of the law, especially when dealing with the Constitution.

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