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Pay-Discrimination Bill Opposed by Business Fails in Senate Vote

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Nov. 17 (Bloomberg) -- A bill that would have made it easier for workers to sue their employers for pay discrimination was defeated in the U.S. Senate after business groups said the measure backed by the Obama administration was a jobs killer.

Senate Democrats didn’t muster enough votes today to overcome a Republican-led filibuster of the Paycheck Fairness Act, a bill that would have lifted the cap on damages in pay-discrimination lawsuits and restricted how employers can fight such complaints. The legislation would also have banned employers from penalizing workers who share salary information to find pay discrepancies.

Democrats pushed the measure, which would have strengthened remedies under the Equal Pay Act of 1963 for women, early in the Obama administration as part of a pro-labor agenda. It passed the House of Representatives in January 2009, along with the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.

The Lilly Ledbetter bill became the first law that Barack Obama signed as president. The measure, primarily intended to benefit women, lets workers pursue claims of being underpaid because of discrimination that occurred years earlier. A U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2007 had disallowed such lawsuits.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers and other business groups lobbied Republican senators to block the companion piece of legislation.

The Democrats, needing 60 votes to end the filibuster, got 58. One Democrat, Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska, joined Republicans in voting against the legislation. Three Republican women who voted for the Lilly Ledbetter bill -- Senators Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, both of Maine, and Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas -- this time voted with their party.

‘Tough Vote’

“This was a tough vote for many due to the sound-bite appeal of the bill’s title, but in the end they did the right thing and voted for jobs,” Keith Smith, director of employment and labor policy at the manufacturers’ association, said in an e-mailed statement. “It is difficult to imagine a scenario in which this bill would not have led to lower wages and fewer jobs.”

The Business Roundtable and employer groups have cited the Obama administration’s support for the legislation as evidence of anti-business policies. The Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers this week sent letters to senators notifying them that the business groups would monitor their votes on the measure.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said Republicans who blocked the bill would rather “give tax breaks to CEOs who ship jobs overseas” than ensure that women are paid the same as men for doing equal work. Senator Barbara Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat, said the bill was “critical to our economic recovery.”

“We need to make sure the family budget is based on people getting paid for the work they do,” she said.

The Paycheck Fairness Act is S. 3772.

To contact the reporter on this story: Holly Rosenkrantz in Washington at hrosenkrantz@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Liebert at LLiebert@bloomberg.net.

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