Four years ago today President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, with Lilly Ledbetter, who suffered 20 years of pay discrimination while doing the same work as men at her Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. factory, looking on.
That legislation overturned a 2007 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that denied many pay discrimination victims their day in court. Ledbetter says her namesake bill “was an important victory, but it was just the first step” in the long fight for pay equity and fairness.
She is urging people to call on Congress to pass the recently reintroduced Paycheck Fairness Act, calling it “the next step.” She says it would close some of the loopholes in the Equal Pay Act of 1963 that have made it less effective.
I always say, 'Giving women my Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act without the Paycheck Fairness Act is like giving them a nail without the hammer.'
The legislation, introduced last week by Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), would strengthen penalties that courts may impose for equal pay violations and prohibit retaliation against workers who inquire about or disclose information about employers' wage practices. The bill also would require employers to show pay disparity is truly related to job performance—not gender.
The Paycheck Fairness Act has been introduced several times in recent years, but Republicans have been able to block action on the bill, most recently last summer with a Senate filibuster.
You can read more from Ledbetter and send a message to your lawmakers by visiting this website from the American Association of University Women (AAUW).
Ledbetter’s story began in 1979 when she was hired at an Alabama Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. plant. Nearly 20 years later, Ledbetter discovered she was being paid less than the lowest-paid man doing the same work. She gathered enough evidence to file suit, and a jury awarded her $3.8 million. But Goodyear appealed to the Supreme Court.
In May 2007, the Supreme Court squelched the award and ruled Ledbetter—and other workers—had no right to sue for a remedy in cases of pay discrimination if she—or any worker—waited more than 180 days after her first paycheck, even if she didn’t discover the pay discrimination until years later.
Following the court’s ruling, hundreds of pay discrimination cases were thrown out based on the 5-4 decision that basically overturned decades of precedent that considered each paycheck a discriminatory act, thus allowing workers who don’t discover the discrimination for years to seek legal remedies. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act overturns that ruling and gives workers their day in court.