The White House, scrambling to win congressional approval of a civil rights bill that President Bush can sign, yesterday negotiated a compromise anti-discrimination measure with a bipartisan group of House members.
But it was unclear whether Democratic leaders would permit a vote on the alternative, sponsored by Rep. John J. LaFalce (D-N.Y.), when the House this week takes up legislation to reverse or modify a series of Supreme Court rulings that restricted the remedies available to victims of job discrimina- tion.
The House bill closely parallels legislation approved by the Senate two weeks ago that the Bush administration opposes because of concerns it would lead to employers setting up racial quotas and to a rash of lawsuits prompted by
new punitive and compensatory damages permitted by the meas- ure.
Senate passage of the civil rights measure prompted a bitter partisan fight, in which Republicans accused Democrats of seeking to score political points by forcing through a bill opposed by the GOP and one that Bush will have to veto.
The LaFalce alternative, said a White House official involved in yesterday's negotiations, "is not a perfect bill but it is far better than that passed by the Senate or the House committee. It is not a litigation bonanza for lawyers and it eliminates de facto quotas."
Noting the threat of a Bush veto that likely cannot be overridden, LaFalce said yesterday, "I want a good civil rights bill rather than a political issue."
House Speaker Thomas S. Foley (D-Wash.) said yesterday he expects the House Rules Committee to allow a vote on "a Republican substitute," but did not specify exactly what alternative would be presented to the House when it takes up the issue, probably Wednesday.
At the heart of the dispute between congressional Democrats and the White House is the court's ruling in Wards Cove Packing Co. v. Atonio, which makes it easier for employers to justify discrimination on the basis of business necessi- ty.
The Democratic bill would reverse that decision, making it easier for employees to prove discrimination.
That reversal, combined with the provisions allowing compensatory and punitive damages in discrimination cases, would encourage employers to set up quota systems to avoid lawsuits, the Bush administration and congressional Republicans have argued.
LaFalce said yesterday his bill meets administration objections on the quota issue and sets a limit on damages of $100,000 to prevent what he termed a "lawyers' delight."