This was a vote on a motion to table (kill) an amendment offered by Sen. Specter (R-PA) to S.181, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, a bill that changed the rules regarding the statute of limitations for wage discrimination suits. S.181 would change the existing 180 day statute of limitations for filing a pay discrimination lawsuit so that it would reset with each new paycheck that contained the discriminatory pay. S.181 was developed in response to a 2007 Supreme Court decision holding that the statute of limitations on equal pay law suits begin on the date the pay was originally agreed upon, and not the date of the most recent paycheck. That ruling had prevented Lilly Ledbetter from recovering for unequal pay because she did not learn that she was receiving unequal pay until years after she was hired.
The language of S. 181 also permitted a wage discrimination suit to be filed on the basis of what were termed “other practices” aside from simply paying one worker less than another on a discriminatory basis. The Specter Amendment would delete that phrase from the bill. He argued: (T)he core issue here is pay, and that is what I think we ought to deal with. . . I think there is merit in specifying that this legislation is aimed at pay, and if you talk about other practices it is going to produce a lot of litigation because there is no definition of what the ‘other practices’ means. He added that “other practices might be promotion, might be hiring, might be firing, might be training, might be territorial assignment, might be transfer, might be tenure, might be demotion, place of business reassignment, might be discipline. . . Now, if it is the objective of the drafters of the bill to cover promotion or to cover hiring or to cover firing, fine; let's say so. If there is intent to cover any of these other specific items, let's consider that. Let's make an evaluation as to whether that is a practice which requires remedial legislation. But in order to have ‘other practices’, I think we have the potential of reaching a quagmire and have a lot of litigation about what the intent was of Congress, a lot of questions as to what we intend to do.
Sen. Durbin (D-IL), opposed the amendment and said “(I)f a person is a victim of discrimination, once they have discovered those facts and assert those in court, they should have compensation. Employers ought to be given notice nationwide that we want people to be treated fairly, Black, White, and Brown, men and women, young and old, when it comes to job responsibilities. . . If you get discriminated against because your employer is secretly giving somebody more for the same job, you will have your day in court. . . .”
A motion to table is an effort to stop consideration of a pending matter, in this case the Specter Amendment. The vote on the motion was 55-39 along almost straight party lines. Fifth-three Democrats and two Republicans voted “aye”. All thirty-nine “nay” votes were cast by Republicans. As a result, the Senate continued to consider the bill containing the new rules for the statute of limitations in wage discrimination suits with the phrase “other practices” in the description of actions that could constitute wage discrimination.