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US Senate passes wage discrimination bill

world Updated: Jan 23, 2009 12:39 IST

The US Senate passed a major wage discrimination bill late Thursday, moving one step closer to presenting the legislation to President Barack Obama so that it may signed into law.

The bill, adopted by a 61 to 36 vote, would facilitate judiciary procedures for an employee discriminated against on the basis of age, sex, race, religion or country of origin.

The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act reverses a 2007 Supreme Court ruling that had narrowed to 180 days the time period during which an employee can file a claim of wage discrimination after the original pay-setting decision.

Under the proposed legislation, employees would have 180 days from receiving a discriminatory paycheck to file their claim.

"There is no reason anyone should take home a paycheck different from his or her coworker's based solely on that worker's gender, race, age, ethnicity or disability. And in a historically weak economy such as ours, American families can no longer afford it," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said in a statement.

"We send this to the president as soon as possible so he can sign it into law."

A similar bill had faced a veto threat by Obama's predecessor, George W. Bush.

The House of Representatives approved the bill on January 9 during the first week of the new session of Congress, along with other labor rights legislation. The bill must return to the House for a second approval because the House had combined the bill with a measure the Senate did not consider.

The bill is named after Lilly Ledbetter, a retired worker at a Goodyear factory in Alabama who discovered she was paid less than her male counterparts.

Ledbetter had accompanied Obama on his train ride Saturday into Washington for his inauguration.

She appeared besides Democratic Senator Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, the senior female senator and main sponsor of the bill, at a press conference after the vote.

"The bill meant quote a lot to me and my family," said Ledbetter, who described her ordeal that began in 1998 when she discovered through an anonymous note that she was receiving a lower salary than male employees at the tire company.

Mikulski said the vote was "an enormous victory," adding that "this legislation sends a message to the American people because it will be the first bill that president Obama signs."

Ledbetter said she had been invited by Obama to appear at the White House during a signing ceremony for the legislation.