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Labor and Employment Law Advocate Senator Edward M. Kennedy Dies at 77

August 28, 2009

Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, a tireless defender of workers' rights over the past four decades passed away late Tuesday night at the age of 77. As California Employment Lawyers, we have been following Kennedy's career in the Senate of 46 years, and his legal legacy for labor and employment law in America.

As chairman of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pension Committee in the Senate, Kennedy fought aggressively to protect civil rights, implement safety in the workplace, increase minimum wage, and fight for disability rights. Senator Kennedy's legislative efforts have had an enormous impact on employment law for the worker and the employer, as well as the labor and employment lawyers defending employment lawsuits.

According to CNN, Kennedy's first major speech on the Senate floor supported the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which banned gender or race discrimination in public places, places of employment, and schools. Kennedy was also key in passing the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Civil Rights Acts of 1991, which worked towards continuing to improve Federal civil rights laws that protect against employee discrimination.

One of Kennedy's great legislative victories was the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) passed in 1990, which prohibits workplace discrimination, acting on the fundamental principle that people should be measured by what they are able to do, and not what they are unable to do. The ADA provided as Kennedy said on the 17th anniversary of the ADA, the "promise of a new and better life for every disabled citizen, in which their disabilities would no longer put an end to their dreams."

Kennedy was also one of the key architects of the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, which guarantees working families job protection for up to twelve weeks of unpaid leave to care for the birth of a baby, family emergencies, or personal medical issues.

During his tenure in the Senate, Kennedy fought ceaselessly for the federal minimum wage increase. Time magazine reports that during his service as Senator, the federal minimum wage was raised 16 times, even with staunch Republican opposition.

In 1970, Kennedy helped pass the Occupational Safety and Health Act, which led to the creation of OSHA, The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, whose mission is to prevent work-related injuries, illnesses, and deaths. The agency was created in 1971, and since then, occupational deaths have been cut by 62% and injuries have declined by 42%.

A longtime supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment, Kennedy recently oversaw the signing into law of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, a bill that extends the time period in which employees can pursue equal compensation lawsuits. This bill amends title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, modifies the operation of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

Kennedy Championed Workers' Rights, MSNBC.com, August 26, 2009

Edward M. Kennedy, Senate Stalwart is Dead at 77, New York Times, August 26, 2009

Kennedy Remembered As an Advocate for All, CNN.com, August 28, 2009

Kennedy's Top 10 Legislative Battles, Time.com, August 28, 2009

Kennedy on the 17th Anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act, July 26, 2007

Related Web Resources:

OSHA

Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990, As Amended

Civil Rights Act of 1991, EEOC

The Voting Rights Act of 1965, United States Department of Justice

Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, The White House Briefing Room

U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions