Why We Vote: Thank You Lilly Ledbetter – Equal Pay Act Signed into Law
NOTE: This election will be decided on turnout. We’ll be running posts from the past three and a half years to remind ourselves why we really do need to vote – and get our friends out too! Lilly Ledbetter speaks at the convention tonight (Tuesday) so we start with her.
When Barack Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act into law this morning–technically his second piece of legislation signed as president–he, with congress, removed the ridiculous legal obstacles for women seeking equal pay in the workplace. Though Ledbetter was certainly not alone in fighting for workplace gender equality, her struggle in doing so is notable and worthy of our thanks.
Lilly Ledbetter, 70, worked as a manager in a Alabama tire manufacturing plant for many years when, with the assistance of a coworker, she discovered the scope of the discrimination based solely on her gender. An Alabama jury agreed with her complaint; however, her efforts to recover restitution were frustrated by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2007.
The 5-4 split decision of the Supreme Court was contingent on a technicality in the law pertaining to a 180 day statute of limitations for filing suit over pay discrimination. Technically, Ledbetter would have had to file a complaint within 180 days of the first incident. Justices opposed to her case decided to follow a strict interpretation of the existing law despite the highly unlikely probability of discovering the wrongdoing within such a short period of time.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg, author of the Court’s dissent, placed the blame squarely upon the deep-seated nature of gender inequality in American society. Speaking on behalf of the four dissenting judges, Ginsburg said, “In our view, the court does not comprehend, or is indifferent to, the insidious way in which women can be victims of pay discrimination …” The House of Representatives agreed, but efforts to change the law were quashed by Senate Republicans last April.
The signing of today’s Fair Pay Act was long overdue, but welcome. Though passing the act represents progress, it is but a tool in combating discrimination, not just for women but for all who have and will face unfair treatment in the workplace and elsewhere. As President Obama put it at the signing ceremony:
Ultimately, equal pay isn’t just an economic issue for millions of Americans and their families, it’s a question of who we are — and whether we’re truly living up to our fundamental ideals; whether we’ll do our part, as generations before us, to ensure those words put on paper some 200 years ago really mean something–to breathe new life into them with a more enlightened understanding that is appropriate for our time.
That is what Lilly Ledbetter challenged us to do.
So thanks to you, Lilly. You have helped to provide an example of our government working properly, and that’s something we can’t get enough of these days. The legislation that bears your name is a testament to your struggle as well as many, many others who have fought discrimination in all its forms.