Obama Signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act 10 Years Ago On This Date
How do you feel about the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act on its anniversary?
by Causes | 1.28.19
On January 29, 2019, President Barack Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act into law which clarified the statute of limitations for filing an equal pay lawsuit related to pay discrimination.
Why did it come up?
In 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling in the case Ledbetter v. Goodyear, which concerned a gender discrimination lawsuit filed by Lilly Ledbetter against Goodyear Tire, her employer of 19 years.
After reviewing Ledbetter’s treatment and performance records over the course of her career, a jury awarded Ledbetter over $3.5 million in damages (later reduced by a judge to $360,000). Goodyear appealed and argued the jury should only have reviewed Goodyear’s decisions about Ledbetter’s pay for discrimination during the 180-day statute of limitations permitted by the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the ruling and sided with Goodyear, holding that the 180-day statute of limitations begins on the day an employer makes the alleged discriminatory wage decision.
The the case reached the Supreme Court, which upheld the ruling in a 5-4 decision led by the Court’s conservative justices. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg argued that the Court should’ve used a broader interpretation of the relevant law to side with Ledbetter, but suggested in her dissent (which she read from the bench) that Congress could act to clear up the law's interpretation.
What did it do?
Legislation to clarify the relevant law in the manner suggested by Ginsburg was drafted shortly after the decision and did the following:
- It clarified that a discriminatory practice occurred each time an individual is affected by the discriminatory decision, including each time wages or other compensation is paid.
- It allowed liability to accrue over time and for an aggrieved person to obtain relief (such as back pay) for up to two years before the date a charge was filed when discriminatory practices before the filing period are similar to those occurring in the filing period.
It passed the House along party-lines in July 2007, but it stalled in the Senate the following spring when it failed to get the 60 votes needed in a 56-42 procedural vote.
The 111th Congress quickly took up the bill after President Barack Obama (who supported the bill as a senator) was inaugurated on January 20, 2009. The Senate passed it two days later in a 61-36 vote that saw four Republicans ― including Sens. Susan Collins (ME) and Lisa Murkowski (AK) ― join all Democrats in voting for the bill. On January 27th, the House passed it 250-177, with three Republicans in favor and five Democrats opposed.
President Obama offered the following remarks at a signing ceremony for the bill, the first he signed into law:
“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. That there are no second class citizens in our workplaces, and that it’s not just unfair and illegal ― but bad for business ― to pay someone less because of their gender, ace, race, ethnicity, religion or disability. And that justice isn’t about some abstract legal theory, or footnote in a casebook ― it’s about how our laws affect the daily realities of people’s lives: their ability to make a living and care for their families and achieve their goals.”
What has its impact been?
Since its enactment, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act has made it easier for women to sue employers for discriminatory pay practices, although there hasn’t been a substantial uptick in discrimination filings.
President Obama advocated for the bill both during his time in the Senate and on the campaign trail, so its enactment as the first bill he signed into law was symbolic for his legacy. But by rushing to sign it only two days after it passed Congress he broke another campaign promise to not sign non-emergency bills without giving the public 5 days to view it on the White House website.
Lilly Ledbetter has continued to advocate for equal pay, and delivered a speech at the 2012 Democratic National Convention on the subject. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is also proud of her role in the inception of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act ― she keeps a framed copy of the bill text in her office.
— Eric Revell
(Photo Credit: White House / Public Domain)
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