Late last week the Senate passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, which extends the length of time after a wage-discrimination offense that a suit can be filed. The vote was a filibuster-proof 61-36.
The bill is named for Lilly Ledbetter, who worked for the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company in Gadsden, Alabama. As Ledbetter neared the end of her career with the company, she received an anonymous note from a co-worker that said the company was paying her 70-85% of what her male counterparts made for doing the same work.
Ledbetter sued Goodyear, in a case decided by the Supreme Court in 2007. The court ruled against Ledbetter in 5-4 vote, saying that the 180-day statue of limitations in the civil rights laws began when company began its discriminatory practices–not when she learned about them. In Ledbetter’s case, the discrimination lasted for her entire 19-year career. As she told MSNBC, “I started out at a lower salary, and they gave me lower raises, over and over again.”
The legislation tackles this problem by restarting the 180-day clock each time the company pays a discriminatory wage. Thus, someone who believes his or her employer is engaging in wage discrimination can sue up to 180 days after the last instance of discrimination–the final or most recent insufficient paycheck–not the first instance as the Supreme Court ruled.
The House of Representative passed a similar bill earlier in January, but the two houses need to resolve their differences before passing on a reconciled bill to President Obama for his signature. President Bush vetoed comparable legislation last year, but President Obama invited Ledbetter to ride with him on the train to his inauguration the weekend before his swearing in–evidence that he probably will sign this year’s version.
Update 29 January 2009: President Obama signed the legislation today.