The Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act

For nearly 20 years, Lily Ledbetter worked for Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. in Gadsden, Ala. By 1997, she was the only female manager. She was paid $3,727 per month, while the salaries of her male counterparts ranged from $4,286 to $5,326 per month, regardless of how long they worked for the company.

This was as clear a case of gender discrimination as any, except that the U.S. Supreme Court under Chief Justice Roberts didn’t see it that way.

Instead, the court ruled that because Lily Ledbetter hadn’t filed a discrimination charge within 180 days of her first paycheck, the statute of limitations expired on her ability to sue for back pay and damages, even though Goodyear had kept its pay discrimination secret and there was no way for Lily to find out about it until chance and a co-worker’s stray comment about his paycheck intervened.

And the story gets worse. After the court’s decision in Ledbetter v. Goodyear, a precedent was set allowing other discrimination suits to be limited in the same way.

Alliance for Justice explains one example, the case of Garcia v. Brockway.  In this case, it was determined that any builder who fails to construct a building according to the regulations plainly laid out in the Fair Housing Act is completely immune from suit if the violation goes unnoticed for two years. Thus as a result of Ledbetter, the disabled suddenly found their rights limited as well.

According to Alliance for Justice, in the 10 months post-Ledbetter, the decision was cited in 267 cases; in venues ranging from the federal courts of appeal to numerous districts courts to the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

There was a chance in early 2008 for Congress to reverse this bad precedent in the form of the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, but unfortunately, the bill was voted down in the Senate. It fell short by just three votes. Incredible. We set up a petition to protest this failure by the Senate.

The good news is that the Fair Pay Act isn’t completely dead. It passed in the House, and there’s been talk for months about reviving it in the Senate. And the opportunity to do so will be there once the new Congress is in session.

Equal pay for equal work–it’s not that hard a concept to grasp. And its day will come again.