January 22, 2009

Senate Passes Udall -Backed Bill to Protect Equal Pay

Legislation, Co-Sponsored by Senator Udall, Helps Workers Fight Pay Discrimination

WASHINGTON - The U.S. Senate today passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, cosponsored by Senator Tom Udall, to restore civil rights protections for workers who face pay discrimination based on age, race, gender, national origin, religion or disability. The bill gives workers the right to fight against discrimination without imposing an unfair, arbitrary timeline regulating the time in which they must file a lawsuit. In 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that workers, even those discriminated against for two decades, were unable to fight discrimination if they had not discovered the wrongdoing and filed suit within 180 days.

The Ledbetter Act passed by a bipartisan vote of 61-36. Udall was presiding over the Senate for the first time as the legislation was being debated.

"Our anti-discrimination laws do not work if employers can avoid liability simply by misleading their workers," said Udall. "I cosponsored this legislation to ensure that legal loopholes do not stop New Mexico women from receiving equal pay for equal work."

Today, women earn only 77 cents for every dollar earned by a man, and Hispanic women earn only 55 cents on the dollar. Court decisions have made it nearly impossible for many women to receive relief from discriminatory pay.

A study by the Institute of Women's Policy Research recently concluded that wage inequality will cost a woman anywhere from $400,000 to $2 million over her lifetime in lost wages. As a result, more women than men experience poverty or teeter right on the edge. Ending wage inequality would improve nutrition, health, and educational opportunities for many New Mexico families.
Said Udall, "The wage gap undermines not only our nation's commitment to equality, but also the strength of New Mexico families. When working women are denied the pay they deserve, their families suffer, their children suffer and their communities suffer. At a time when so many working families are struggling, this legislation will help ensure that more of our working women will have the resources they need to raise their children."
Studies also suggest that black and Hispanic workers continue to receive lower wages than whites.
"In today's America we cannot accept a system that allows workers to be paid less because of their race or ethnicity," said Udall. "Americans believe that workers should be judged by the quality of their work, not the color of their skin. Today's legislation goes a long way towards making that principle a reality, not just an ideal."