This was a vote to impose cloture on S.181, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009. A cloture motion is a procedure by which the Senate can vote to end, or to place a time limit on, debate of a bill, and thereby overcome a filibuster. S. 181 changed the law to say that the 180 day statute of limitations for filing a pay discrimination suit begins again with each new paycheck that contains the unfair pay. The bill was developed in response to a 2007 Supreme Court decision holding that the 180 day statute of limitations for an equal-pay lawsuit begins on the date the pay was originally agreed upon and does not renew with each paycheck containing the discriminatory pay. 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.
Sen. Mikulski (D-MD), who led the effort on behalf of the legislation and supported the cloture motion, said that opponents of S.181 should not want to filibuster it “because we guarantee an open process (whereby) Senators will be able to offer amendments.” She also said that delaying a vote on the measure would go against “what the American people are telling us to do. Much is talked about economic stimulus, but if you want to help women, let's start paying them equal pay for equal or comparable work. That is what the Lilly Ledbetter bill will ensure. It will restore the law to the way it was before the Supreme Court decision . . . .”
Addressing the concern of opponents of the bill that it will generate a wave of lawsuits, Mikulski argued it would not because there were not many suits before the Supreme Court decision “when workers thought that the day statute of limitations kept resetting with each paycheck.” Mikulski concluded by saying: “(W)age discrimination not only affects women, but it affects all who are discriminated against, and it is often minorities. We want to be sure we keep the courthouse door open.”
Sen. Leahy (D-VT), the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, supported Sen. Mikulski’s remarks. He said that opponents of S. 181 may suggest that “this legislation will encourage workers who are being paid less as a result of discrimination to delay filing suit for equal pay. This argument defies logic . . . (since) victims of pay discrimination have no incentive to delay filing suit. In the wake of the Supreme Court's decision in Ledbetter, their employers now have a great incentive to delay revealing their discriminatory conduct . . . (and) victims have the burden of proving the discrimination occurred and that evidentiary task is only made more difficult as time goes on.”
Sen. Leahy also suggested that opponents of the bill will “claim that somehow trial lawyers will benefit (from its passage). The reality is that the Supreme Court's Ledbetter decision could actually lead to more litigation because workers will feel the need to file premature claims so that time does not run out. The Congressional Budget Office has concluded that this legislation ‘would not establish a new cause of action for claims of pay discrimination' and ‘would not significantly affect the number of filings with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’ or with the Federal courts.
Sen. Enzi (R-WY), who opposed the cloture motion, objected to the procedure under which S. 181 was brought to the floor. He said: (T)his bill should have gone through the committee process. We solve a lot of things, we shorten the debate on the floor, and we eliminate the need for all of these cloture motions which result in hours and hours of time with no productivity. I think the American people want the productivity, and the reasoning that comes from the committee process that winds up with a very good product.” Sen. Hutchison (R-TX) supported Sen. Enzi and said committees are “where we work in a bipartisan way to make legislation better. . . .”
A cloture motion requires a vote of three-fifths of the full Senate, or 60 votes. The vote on the cloture motion related to the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 was 72-23. Fifty-seven Democrats and fifteen Republicans voted “aye”. Twenty-three Republicans voted “nay”. As a result, a limit was placed on the time during which S.181 could be debated, and the Senate was able to vote on its passage.