"There ought to be a law!" How many times have we heard or said those words ourselves when encountering some unfairness? Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said the same thing last year in the dissenting opinion in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire when she urged Congress to pass a law undoing the damage done by the conservative court majority when it severely limited workers' ability to seek redress in the courts for pay discrimination under Title VII. Now the time has come for Congress to do so, and YOU can help
First the facts. Lilly Ledbetter worked for Goodyear for 19 years before accepting an early retirement offer. Shortly before she left Goodyear, Ledbetter received an anonymous memo revealing that the other shift supervisors with the same title and the job responsibilities she had, were paid between 14-30% more than she was earning. The decision to pay Ledbetter less than her male co-worker had been made years earlier by a supervisor who did not believe women belonged at Goodyear, and certainly not working as supervisors. Until Ledbetter got this memo, she did not know she had been shortchanged all those years. Ledbetter sued, and in the course of the lawsuit, Goodyear's records confirmed the anonymous tip -- the sole woman supervisor was paid far less than the men in the same positions.
A jury found that Goodyear had unlawfully discriminated against Ledbetter and awarded her $224,000 in back pay, $4,600 in mental anguish and $3.2 million dollars in punitive damages. Goodyear appealed and the appellate court sided with Goodyear finding that Ledbetter was barred from bringing a lawsuit because she didn't file a complaint within six months of when her supervisor made the discriminatory decision to pay her less than the men.
In the next appeal, the Supreme Court, issued a narrow 5-4 conservative majority shielding employers from liability unless an employee learns of the pay discrimination (oh so unlikely) and does something about it within 180 days. The dissenting opinion written by the sole woman justice and joined by three male justices pointed out that the Court's decision ignores the reality of the workplace and "overlooks common characteristics of pay discrimination." When employers make pay decisions workers rarely know how their pay stacks up against their co-workers doing the same or similar jobs or the factors employers take into account in making these pay decisions.
This majority's ruling is inconsistent with most appellate courts and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's longstanding position that every unequal paycheck is a new violation and the 180-day clock starts ticking again with every paycheck that was infected by sex discrimination. At the close of the dissent Justice Ginsburg noted that the ball is in Congress' court and she invited lawmakers to correct the court's "parsimonious reading of Title VII."
Civil rights organizations immediately mobilized to enact new federal legislation to clarify when and under what circumstances employees can file a lawsuit asserting their federally guaranteed right to equal opportunity in employment. Within three months of the Supreme Court's decision, the House of Representatives passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2007 which makes clear that the time limit for suing an employer for pay discrimination begins each time an employer issues a paycheck reflecting past discrimination, not just when the employer initially commits the alleged discriminatory action.
A bipartisan group (true, mostly Democrats) of Senators seeking to overturn the Supreme Court's decision introduced the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act (S. 1843) and the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee will hold a hearing on the on Jan. 24, 2008. The time to be heard is now. Write to members of this Committee and your Senator to ask her (or him) to correct the inequity of the Ledbetter decision. And sign the petition at www.momsrising.org in support of this law.
President George W. Bush plans to veto the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay. Let your Senator know that we won't rest our case until such time our anti-discrimination laws live up to the original intent of expanding opportunity. A maxim of jurisprudence states that for every wrong there is a remedy -- and the Fair Pay Act remedies the injustices visited upon aggrieved workers by Ledbetter v. Goodyear.