WASHINGTON -- Civil rights leaders and Democrats denounced yesterday a measure that President Bush proposed to replace the anti-discrimination bill passed by the Senate and the House of Representatives.
House Democratic leaders said that instead of considering the administration's proposal, the lawmakers would attempt to override President Bush's expected veto of the bill, the Civil Rights Act of 1990.
The civil rights bill was approved by majorities in both chambers, but the votes fell short of the number needed to override a veto.
"The president's so-called alternative is dead on arrival," said Ralph G. Neas, executive director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. "It's much worse than any previous White House plan."
The administration contends that the bill would force businesses to adopt numerical quotas in hiring and promotion to forestall costly suits.
On Saturday, the White House announced that Mr. Bush would veto the measure and send his own bill to Congress.
While there are broad areas of agreement between the administration's bill and the measure enacted by Congress, the two differ in several important ways.
The administration bill places a ceiling of $150,000 on the amount that judges may award to women and members of religious minorities who prove that they have been victims of intentional discrimination, and it allows judges to award such damages only to deter an employer from discriminating in the future.
The bill passed by Congress would allow the award of an unlimited amount in compensatory damages and cap punitive damages at $150,000 or the total of compensatory damages and back pay, whichever is greater. In the bill passed by Congress, juries, not judges, would hear the lawsuits. (Both the administration's measure and the bill passed by Congress would allow juries to award an unlimited amount in damages for intentional racial discrimination.)
In cases in which a company is accused of having a policy that has the result, even if unintended, of discriminating against women and minorities, the president's bill would allow more latitude to the companies to defend the practice as serving a significant business objective.
Like the measure passed by Congress, the administration's bill says it should not be construed as requiring quotas. But Mr. Bush's bill also says it does not "permit" quotas.
Backers of Congress' bill said such language could outlaw all affirmative action plans.