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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Lilly Ledbetter on equal pay for equal work – and the work still to be done

Lilly Ledbetter and President Obama at the signing of the
Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act four years ago today.
Four years ago today, President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.  The law undid some of the damage caused by the notorious Supreme Court decision in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. Had Congress not acted, the decision would have made it vastly more difficult for women to sue when they are denied equal pay.

Alliance for Justice first told the story of Lilly Ledbetter in our 2007 First Monday video Supreme Injustices. The video describes how the court ruled that Ledbetter could sue only during the 180 days after the discrimination began – which would have been impossible since it was years before she first discovered the discrimination:

But more is needed.  Employers still can bar employees from discussing their wages – and retaliate against workers who do.  Obviously, you can’t sue for wage discrimination if you don’t know you’re being paid less than another employee for the same work.  In addition, an employee who wins can receive back pay, but no compensatory or punitive damages.

Alliance for Justice is part of a coalition of organizations working to change that.  We support
The Paycheck Fairness Act.  It passed the House of Representatives and had the support of a majority of senators - but not the 60 votes needed to break a Republican filibuster.

Still, President Obama can take some action on his own.  The Coalition is urging him to issue an executive order banning contractors who do business with the federal government from retaliating against workers who discuss their own pay.

UPDATE: It's becoming increasingly rare for Congress to do what it did in the Ledbetter case - pass a law effectively overriding a Supreme Court decision.  Richard Hasen analyzes the reasons in this post on SCOTUSblog

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