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New York Times: Reversing Discrimination

President-elect Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress are already signaling a welcome new seriousness in Washington about protecting civil rights after eight years of erosion.

They are planning swift action on legislation to overturn an unjust 2007 Supreme Court decision that has made it much harder for people to challenge illegal discrimination in employment, education, housing and other fields.

The 5-to-4 ruling in 2007 involved Lilly Ledbetter, a supervisor at a Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company plant in Alabama. She received much smaller raises over several years than men in comparable positions.

Tossing aside longstanding legal precedents, government practice and a jury verdict in Ms. Ledbetter's favor, the narrow Supreme Court majority decided that she was entitled to nothing. They ruled that Ms. Ledbetter should have filed her claim within 180 days of the very first decision to pay her less. The justices rejected the argument that each subsequent discriminatory paycheck was a new violation of the law.

The impact of the Ledbetter decision has been broad injustice. As Robert Pear reported in The Times on Monday, courts around the country have cited the decision hundreds of times as a reason for rejecting lawsuits claiming discrimination based on race, sex, age and disability, without regard to the underlying merits of the individual cases.

The House is expected to vote this week on a legislative fix that would restore the law's original intent. The measure would state that a violation occurs each time a person receives a paycheck resulting from 'a discriminatory compensation decision.' The Senate is expected to take up the bill soon after. It merits passage, along with a related bill, the Paycheck Fairness Act, which contains other useful steps for combating gender-based wage discrimination.

Senate Republicans blocked the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act last spring. They should consider now whether hostility to civil rights and pay equity for women is really the image they want to project for their party after the losses it suffered in November.