(Photo from the Emily’s List photostream on Flickr)
Years from now, on that bright future day when women actually earn equal pay for equal work, may they remember Lilly Ledbetter. Today, Lilly stood beside the President of the United States as Barack Obama signed his first bill into law — the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. Surrounding Lilly were her champions in Congress, including Trinity’s own Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi ’62. This was a great day for women’s rights — but a day that should never have been necessary.
Lilly Ledbetter worked at a Goodyear Tire and Rubber plant for 20 years. Upon retirement, she discovered that her pay all those years was significantly less than the pay of the men who did exactly the same job she had performed. She sued and won in the lower court, but when the case finally came before the Supreme Court of the United States, the conservative majority ruled against Lilly. Justice Samuel Alito wrote an opinion that essentially said that Lilly’s suit was not timely — that she should have brought the suit within 180 days of her very first paycheck so long ago. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote a pointed dissent, noting that pay discrimination often occurs in ways that are hidden over a long period of time. You can read the majority and dissenting opinions in links on the website of the National Women’s Law Center whose excellent legal team represented Ms. Ledbetter, and whose work on pay equity continues to be a great gift to women everywhere.
Because the Supreme Court decision was final, as Justice Ginsburg noted in the last sentence of her opinion, the only recourse to right this legal wrong was to get Congressional action. The Ledbetter bill failed last year in the waning days of the prior administration. Securing justice for women on pay equity matters was a top campaign promise for President Obama. Read his remarks in signing this bill today.
I have some very free legal advice for those who worry about this: pay women equally from the start!
When every employer ensures equal pay for equal work, the discrimination lawyers will have to turn to other matters — maybe shareholder lawsuits over executive bonuses (how many women execs have you read about spending $1.2 million on chairs, commodes and office trash cans? see my “office do-over” blog below — and think about how few women are even in CEO positions to begin with!)…
Lilly, herself, will not earn a dime from this legislation. It’s not for her benefit. She will only get roses from her admirers. But her grit and determination to set the matter straight means raises for future generations of women at work.
Thank you, Lilly Ledbetter!