President Obama Signs the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009
On January 29, 2009, with the new law's namesake Lilly Ledbetter there to witness, President Obama signed into law the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act -- legislation to fight pay discrimination and ensure fundamental fairness to American workers. This bill rectifies a Supreme Court decision, which made it harder for workers to sue their employers for pay discrimination compensation. For the full text of the act, visit: http://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing_room/LillyLedbetterFairPayActPublicReview/
From the web site of the Speaker of the House, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca): http://speaker.gov/issues?id=0065
The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, H.R. 2831. This bill is key for women and other workers – restoring a basic protection against pay discrimination, by rectifying the May 2007 Ledbetter v Goodyear Supreme Court decision that overturned precedent and made it much more difficult for workers to pursue pay discrimination claims. The bill simply restores the longstanding interpretation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and other discrimination statutes, thereby protecting women and other workers. The House passed this bill on July 31, 2007.
DETAILED SUMMARY OF THE LILLY LEDBETTER FAIR PAY ACT - H.R. 2831
On July 31, 2007, the House passed H.R. 2831, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. This is a critical bill for women, rectifying the Supreme Court decision in Ledbetter v. Goodyear that made it much harder for women and other workers to pursue pay discrimination claims.
In May 2007, the Supreme Court handed down a 5-4 decision, Ledbetter v. Goodyear, which tosses aside longstanding prior law and makes it much harder for women and other workers to pursue pay discrimination claims. On May 29, 2007, the Supreme Court handed down a 5-4 ruling that would make it significantly harder for women and other workers to sue their employers for discrimination in pay. The Court ruled that since Lilly Ledbetter, a long-time employee of Goodyear, had not filed her charge of pay discrimination within 180 days of her employer’s initial decision to pay her less, she could not receive any relief.
By its ruling, the Supreme Court stripped Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of much of its potency. As a New York Times editorial (5/31/07) pointed out, “The Supreme Court struck a blow for discrimination this week by stripping a key civil rights law of much of its potency. The majority opinion … forced an unreasonable reading of the law, and tossed aside longstanding precedents to rule in favor of an Alabama employer that had underpaid a female employee for years.”
In overturning the Supreme Court, this bill simply restores the longstanding interpretation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. The Supreme Court ruling overturned longstanding precedent. Under longstanding precedent and the interpretation of the EEOC, every paycheck resulting from an earlier discriminatory pay decision is considered a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and other key anti-discrimination statutes. Therefore, as long as a worker files within 180 days of a discriminatory paycheck, their charges are considered as timely. The legislation would also clarify that, once a worker files a charge, he or she needs not keep filing new charges with each new paycheck.
Lilly Ledbetter’s case was a clear case of pay discrimination on the basis of sex. Lilly Ledbetter worked for nearly 20 years as a supervisor at a Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company facility in Alabama. She sued the company after learning that she was paid less than her male counterparts at the facility, despite having more experience than several of them. A jury found that her employer had unlawfully discriminated against her on the basis of sex. However, the Supreme Court ruled that Ledbetter had waited too long to sue, despite the fact that she filed a charge with the EEOC as soon as she received an anonymous note alerting her to pay discrimination. The court ruled that, since Ledbetter did not raise a claim within 180 days of the employer’s initial decision to pay her less, she could not receive any relief. Employees in Ledbetter’s position would be forced to live with discriminatory paychecks for the rest of their careers under this Supreme Court decision.
This Supreme Court decision ignores the realities of the workplace. The majority in this decision failed to take into account the realities of the workplace. Employees generally do not know enough about what their co-workers earn, or how pay decisions are made, to file a complaint precisely when discrimination first occurs. Indeed, in a large proportion of American companies, salaries are confidential. The court’s new rules would make it extraordinarily difficult for women and other victims of pay discrimination to sue under Title VII.
In her dissent, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg urged Congress to quickly pass a law correcting this damaging decision. As the New York Times (5/30/07) reported, “In a vigorous dissenting opinion that she read from the bench, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said the majority opinion ‘overlooks common characteristics of pay discrimination.’ She said that given the secrecy in most workplaces about salaries, many employees would have no idea within 180 days that they had received a lower raise than others. … Justice Ginsburg noted that even a small differential ‘will expand exponentially over an employee’s working life if raises are set as a percentage of prior pay.’” In her dissent, Justice Ginsburg invited Congress to correct the Court’s misinterpretation of Title VII: “[t]he ball is in Congress’ court … the Legislature may act to correct this Court’s parsimonious reading of Title VII.”
Finally, the bill maintains the law’s current statute of limitations and limits on back pay recovery. Contrary to opponents’ claims, the bill does not eliminate the statute of limitations. Under this bill, an employee must still file a charge within the statutory filing period after receiving a discriminatory paycheck. Moreover, employees have no incentive to sit on their rights. The bill maintains Title VII’s limitation of two years for back pay recovery. The longer an employee waits, the more back pay is rendered unrecoverable.