Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009
The bill amends the Civil Rights Act of 1964 stating that the 180-day statute of limitations for filing an equal-pay lawsuit regarding pay discrimination resets with each new discriminatory paycheck. The law was a direct answer to the Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., 550 U.S. 618 (2007), a U.S. Supreme Court decision holding that the statute of limitations for presenting an equal-pay lawsuit begins on the date that the employer makes the initial discriminatory wage decision, not at the date of the most recent paycheck, as a lower court had ruled.
A first bill to amend the statutory limitations period and supersede the Ledbetter decision was introduced in the 110th United States Congress but was never enacted, as after having been passed by the House it failed to survive a cloture vote in the Senate due to the opposition of most of the Republican Senators.
During the campaign for the 2008 elections, the Democrats criticized Republicans for defeating the 2007 version of the bill, citing Republican presidential candidate John McCain's opposition. Then-candidate Barack Obama supported the bill.
After the 2008 election gave the Democratic Party control of both the House and Senate, a new version of the bill was introduced in the first session of the 111th United States Congress and quickly passed both bodies. It became the law signed by the new President Obama after he took office on January 20.
Court rulings[change | change source]
Lilly Ledbetter, a production supervisor at a Goodyear tire plant in Alabama, filed an equal-pay lawsuit seeking back pay for pay discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. She worked for that company for many years without learning that she was paid much less than the men holding the same job. She filed the lawsuit six months before her early retirement in 1998. The District court said her lawsuit was filed on time, but the Court of Appeals said her lawsuit was too late. Ledbetter appealed the decision to the United States Supreme Court. The Supreme Court ruled in 2007 by a 5-4 majority vote that Ledbetter's complaint was filed too late because the discriminatory decisions relating to pay had been made more than 180 days prior to the date she filed her charge, as explained by Justice Samuel Alito. The minority position explained by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg proposed an interpretation according to which the law runs from the date of any paycheck that contains an amount affected by a prior discriminatory pay decision.
The Ledbetter decision was cited by federal judges in 300 cases before the LLFPA was passed. These cases involved not only Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, but also the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, Fair Housing Act, Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act and Eighth Amendment to the Constitution.
The case had never received much attention before going to the Supreme Court, but the Court's ruling ignited legal groups on the left and Democrats that took action to transform the Ledbetter case into a rallying issue for the left. Some activists saw Lilly Ledbetter as an ideal standard-bearer in their attempt to persuade the public that the Supreme Court was moving too far to the right.
Among the first to criticize the Court's decision was Marcia Greenberger, president of the National Women's Law Center, that saw in the ruling a "setback for women and a setback for civil rights" and called Ginsburg's opinion a "clarion call to the American people that this slim majority of the court is headed in the wrong direction." Debra Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women & Families, also condemned the decision, saying, “If employers can keep the discrimination hidden for a period of time, they can continue to discriminate without being held accountable.” On the other side, the majority's findings were applauded by the US Chamber of Commerce, that called it a "fair decision" that "eliminates a potential wind-fall against employers by employees trying to dredge up stale pay claims."
The Bill[change | change source]
The House Democrats were fast to react. On June 12, the caucus spoke against the Supreme Court decision. Claiming lead from Justice Ruth Ginsburg's minority opinion, which invited the Congress to take action by amending the law, the Democrats announced their intention to intervene: House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller said that a bill was to be passed to avoid future court rulings in line with Ledbetter, clearly putting that "a key provision of the legislation will make it clear that discrimination occurs not just when the decision to discriminate is made, but also when someone becomes subject to that discriminatory decision, and when they are affected by that discriminatory decision, including each time they are issued a discriminatory paycheck", as said by Rep. Miller.
Republicans immediately opposed the bill as drafted, with Education and Labor Committee ranking member Howard McKeon raising the issue that companies would be held liable for actions taken by managers who weren't leading the company anymore: "At the end of the day, such a loophole conceivably could allow a retiring employee to seek damages against a company now led by executives who had nothing to do with the initial act of discrimination".
The issue divided lawyers. The American Bar Association passed a resolution supporting the new bill. Other lawyers, such as Neal Mollen, argued that extending the term limit would put a strain on the chances of an adequate defense for the employers, as to defend themselves one "has to rely on documents and the memory of individuals, and neither of those is permanent. If a disappointed employee can wait for many years before raising a claim of discrimination ... he or she can wait out the employer, that is ensure that the employer effectively unable to offer any meaningful defense to the claim".
Organizations that supported the bill included the: American Civil Liberties Union, AFL-CIO, American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association, American Rights at Work, American Library Association, People For the American Way, Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, National Employment Lawyers Association, Hadassah, National Women's Law Center, National Network to End Domestic Violence, Center for Inquiry - Washington DC American Association of University Women, Alliance for Justice, Legal Momentum, Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, National Partnership for Women and Families, Coalition of Labor Union Women, Moms Rising, National Organization for Women, American Association of Retired Persons, Women's Voices, Women Vote Action Fund, 21st Century Democrats, 9to5, National Association of Working Women, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, and Women Employed.
Organizations that opposed the bill include the: U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Eagle Forum, Society for Human Resource Management, National Association of Manufacturers, American Bakers Association, College and University Professional Association for Human Resources, Associated Builders and Contractors, and American Housing & Lodging Association.
Legislative history[change | change source]
The bill (H.R. 2831 and S. 1843) was defeated in April 2008 by Republicans in the Senate who cited the possibility of frivolous lawsuits in their opposition of the bill and criticized Democrats for refusing to allow compromises.
The bill was re-introduced in the 111th Congress (as H.R. 11 and S. 181) in January 2009. It passed in the House of Representatives with 247 votes in support and 171 against. The vote was nearly perfectly split along party lines, with only three Republicans voting in favor (Ed Whitfield of Kentucky, Don Young of Alaska and Chris Smith of New Jersey) and three Democrats voting nay (Travis Childers of Mississippi, Allen Boyd of Florida, and Parker Griffith of Alabama). The Senate voted 72 to 23 to invoke cloture on S. 181 on January 15, 2009. (The vote to invoke cloture ends debate on a bill, and usually leads to a final vote within a few days.) The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act passed the Senate, 61-36, on January 22, 2009. The votes in favor included every Democratic senator (except Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, who was absent from the vote because of health issues) and five Republican senators.
As president, Obama actively supported the bill. The official White House blog said:
President Obama has long championed this bill and Lilly Ledbetter's cause, and by signing it into law, he will ensure that women like Ms. Ledbetter and other victims of pay discrimination can effectively challenge unequal pay.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer announced that the House would vote on S.181 (the bill passed by the Senate) during the week of January 26, getting the bill to President Obama's desk sooner rather than later. On January 27, the House passed S.181 by a 250-177 margin.
On January 29, Obama signed the bill into law. It was the first act he signed as president, and it fulfilled his campaign pledge to nullify Ledbetter v. Goodyear. However, some newspapers criticised him for signing it only two days after it was passed by the House. The St. Petersburg Times which mentioned his campaign promise to give the public five days of notice to comment on legislation before he signed bills. The White House through a spokesman answered that they would be "implementing this policy in full soon", and that currently they were "working through implementation procedures and some initial issues with the congressional calendar".
References[change | change source]
- Corey Dade (August 31, 2008). "Obama's First Shot at Palin Focuses on Equal Pay". The Wall Street Journal.
- Grossman, Joanna (February 13, 2009). "The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009: President Obama's First Signed Bill Restores Essential Protection Against Pay Discrimination". Writ. Retrieved March 15, 2009.
- Pear, Robert (January 5, 2009). "Justices' Ruling in Discrimination Case May Draw Quick Action by Obama". New York Times. Retrieved March 21, 2009.
- Barnes, Robert (September 5, 2007). "Exhibit A in Painting Court as Too Far Right". Washington Post. Retrieved March 15, 2009.
- Barnes, Robert (September 5, 2007). "Over Ginsburg's Dissent, Court Limits Bias Suits". Washington Post. Retrieved March 15, 2009.
- Holland, Jesse J. (June 12, 2007). "House Dems Target Court's Pay Ruling". Associated Press (Time). Retrieved March 22, 2009.
- "S. 181: Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009"
- Hulse, Carl (April 24, 2008). "Republican Senators Block Pay Discrimination Measure". New York Times. Retrieved May 7, 2010.
- Montgomery, Lori (April 24, 2008). "Senate Republicans Block Pay Disparity Measure". Washington Post. Retrieved May 7, 2010.
- Pear, Robert (January 10, 2009). "House Passes 2 Measures on Job Bias". New York Times. Retrieved May 7, 2010.
- Senate roll call vote 4, 111th Congress, 1st Session
- U.S. Senate Roll Call Votes 111th Congress - 1st Session
- "Now Comes Lilly Ledbetter". Whitehouse.gov blog. January 25, 2009.
- "Barack Obama Campaign Promise No. 234: Allow 5 Days of Public Comment Before Signing Bills". St. Petersburg Times. February 4, 2009.
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