Democrats in Congress, along with President-elect Obama, are planning a swift action to overturn a Supreme Court decision, which makes it more difficult for people to challenge discrimination in many different fields including housing, education and employment. This decision, involving Ms. Lilly Ledbetter, a woman who has accused her employers at a Goodyear tire plant of sex-based pay discrimination, was issued in May of 2007. The Court said Ms. Ledbetter did not file her discrimination claim in the appropriate time, 180 days from the unlawful practice, so the argument was rejected.
Since then, courts around the country have taken this decision even farther by rejecting lawsuits claiming discrimination based on race, disability, sex and age. Some judges have even switched their previous positions of agreeing with employees to instead agree with employers because of the high court’s decision. They use precedents set in the Ledbetter case which claim employers cannot be punished for violating the law since they are just perpetuating the pay decisions made in the past. For example, the United States Court of Appeals in the Seventh Circuit said blacks cannot sue the Chicago fire department for discrimination since it is a “continuing violation” of the civil rights law.
As a senator, President Obama sponsored legislation to overturn the Supreme Court ruling and in the final presidential debate said he would appoint judges who understand the struggles of “real world folks”. He sees the bill as part of an initiative to “update the social contract” by closing the gap between men and women and reinvigorating civil rights. The legislation would relax the statute of limitations under various civil rights laws, which would give people more time to file charges; President Bush has threatened to veto the bill. The House tried to pass a similar bill in 2007 but the attempt to end a filibuster fell three votes short.The United States Chamber of Commerce disagrees with the bill, claiming it will lead to a surplus in litigation against employers since it will make it possible for people to file suits decades after the discriminatory act occurred.