It’s official: the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act has been signed into
law. A beaming Ledbetter, the former Goodyear Tire employee whose pay
discrimination lawsuit triggered a Supreme Court ruling harmful to
women’s pay equity and whose name now graces the corrective
legislation, stood next to President Obama at a ceremony celebrating
the bill becoming law.
“The five Supreme Court justices who ruled against me showed they didn’t understand the realities of the workplace,” said Lilly Ledbetter. “But Congress and the President told them today that they were wrong. The effects of wage discrimination are all too real. And when it comes down to it, this really is a family affair. If women are paid better, families and the rest of the country are better off.”
As a result of the legislation, employees who discover that they are being paid unfairly have 180 days after their most recent discriminatory paycheck to file complaint, not 180 days after the first discriminatory paycheck, as the Supreme Court ruled last year. While the Ledbetter law is critical to enabling workers to seek redress for pay inequities, the new law only restores the standard as it existed prior to the Supreme
Court’s recent ruling.
More progressive pay equity legislation remains in Congress. The House has passed the Paycheck Fairness Act in this session, which protects employees from retaliation by employers if they bring
complaints and allows them to sue for compensatory and punitive damages.
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In his remarks, Obama stated, "Lilly Ledbetter didn’t set out to be a trailblazer or a household name.
She was just a good hard worker who did her job – and did it well – for
nearly two decades before discovering that for years, she was paid less
than her male colleagues for the very same work. Over the course of her
career, she lost more than $200,000 in salary, and even more in pension
and Social Security benefits – losses she still feels today."
He added, "So in signing this bill today, I intend to send a clear message: That
making our economy work means making sure it works for everyone." Just two days ago, Obama seemed to fail to comprehend that very idea — that the economy needs to work for everyone — when he asked Congress to jettison family planning provisions from the stimulus package.
Today’s passage of the law does not affect Ledbetter’s own financial situation at all. As Gail Collins noted in the New York Times, "Ledbetter, who was widowed in December, won’t get any restitution of
her lost wages; her case can’t be retried. She’s now part of a long
line of working women who went to court and changed a little bit of the
world in fights that often brought them minimal personal benefit."