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Senate takes up pay disparity

/ Source: The Associated Press

Senate Republicans are planning to block a House bill overturning a Supreme Court decision limiting how long workers can wait before suing their employers for pay discrimination.

Presidential politics loomed over the debate, with Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., delaying a vote on the bill until late Wednesday to give Democratic presidential rivals Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton time to return from the campaign trail.

Republicans bristled at the move, particularly in the face of Reid's complaints earlier this week of GOP obstructionism. Their presidential candidate, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, was not expected to attend the vote.

On the off-chance that the bill passes the Senate, the White House reminded all involved that President Bush intended to veto it.

"The bill far exceeds the stated purpose of undoing the court's decision," and could effectively waive the statute of limitations in such cases and burden courts with claims, the administration said in a statement.

Republicans complained that the legislation was designed to benefit lawyers _ a key Democratic constituency. The bill could also appeal to women and minority voters, for whom pay equity will be a top issue on Election Day. Every seat in the House and a third in the Senate are on the ballot in November.

The bill passed the House in July, 225-199. In the Senate later Thursday, opponents expected to muster the 41 votes to block the legislation.

The debate centers on a bill named for Lilly Ledbetter, a supervisor at the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co's plant in Gadsden, Ala., who sued for pay discrimination just before retiring after a 19-year career there. By the time she retired, Ledbetter made $6,500 less than the lowest-paid male supervisor and claimed earlier decisions by her supervisors kept her from making more.

The Supreme Court voted 5-4 last May 29 to throw out her complaint, saying she had waited too long to sue. Under the justices' decision, which they said was based on congressional legislation, an employee must sue within a 180-day deadline of a decision involving pay if the employee thinks it involved race, sex, religion or national origin.

That opens the door for corporations to discriminate, Democrats said. The legislation would restart the statute of limitations for pay discrimination lawsuits each time an employee gets a paycheck affected by sexism or racism.

The ruling, said Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., leaves a "gaping loophole" in civil rights laws.

"Our legislation closes this loophole by making clear that as long as the discrimination continues, a workers right to challenge it continues as well," he said.