We suppose that in these uncertain times, consistency can be a comfort. But when it comes to the Wall Street Journal’s reliably conservative take on issues like fair pay, it can be down right infuriating. In an editorial published today, the Journal takes to task Democrats who are trying to pass legislation that would ensure women receive equal pay for equal work – an issue whose importance was pushed to the front of our nation’s consciousness after the Supreme Court’s disgraceful decision in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire.
The Journal accuses Democrats of offering the legislation (the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and the Paycheck Fairness Act) as a gift to trial lawyers, the most insidious of groups in the eyes of conservatives, not to mention their favorite scapegoat. Of course, we could just as easily suggest that conservative opposition to these bills is merely an attempt to appease the all powerful business lobby, a beloved ally (and reliable donor base) for Republicans across the country. But, we’ll try our best to take the high road.
Still, we thought it was important to clear up some facts. Let’s start with the Journal’s disingenuous assertion that Ms. Ledbetter’s lawsuit was based on her own “creative theory” that “each paycheck was a new discriminatory act and thus fell within the statute of limitations” laid out in Title VII. Actually, and we’re sure that the Journal’s editorial board is well aware, this “creative theory” has actually been the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s interpretation of Title VII for several decades. This view was upheld by the Supreme Court itself in Bazemore v. Friday. This was by no means an attempt by some wily litigant to get around a well-defined statue of limitations.
What’s more, the 180 day cut off espoused by conservatives (who would prefer to reinterpret the 35 year-old Civil Rights Act), is completely unreasonable, and unduly burdens employees of any minority group. How are workers supposed to know when they are being paid less than their colleagues? While it would certainly make things easier if employers voluntarily alerted employees of discrimination, something tells us that this is unlikely. Indeed, in Ms. Ledbetter’s case, Goodyear policy mandated that employees not disclose their salaries to coworkers. It wasn’t until she received an anonymous note that Ms. Ledbetter even knew what was going on.
The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and the Paycheck Fairness Act have nothing to do with trial lawyers, despite conservatives’ collective assurances. Instead, it is a matter of fundamental fairness. It is also not an attempt by Democrats to change a law to make litigation easier, but rather attempts by fair-minded legislators to remedy a terrible Supreme Court decision that tossed aside decades of precedent. We can only hope that enough Republicans realize the importance of these bills and join Democrats in demanding that gender and race have no bearing on a person’s pay. After all, equality is the founding principle of our country.
Update: as of 1:12pm Eastern Time, the House has passed both the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and the Paycheck Fairness Act! It is now up to the Senate to take action on this important legislation.