Thursday, January 29, 2009

Lilly Ledbetter Becomes Law

After passing both the House and the Senate, President Obama has signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act into law. This makes me very happy.

The Ledbetter Act was discussed heatedly during the last presidential election. McCain opposed the bill on the grounds that it would open up lawsuits. Um....yeah...the bill's supposed to open up lawsuits to companies engaging in pay discrimination. Instead of equal pay protection, McCain felt that women needed more education and training and also stated that the he didn't think the Ledbetter Act would do anything to help the rights of women.

That line of reasoning seems to have stuck, because when discussing this issue with people, I've found that an instinctive fear of frivolous lawsuits and a lack of understanding of what the Ledbetter Act actually does. After explaining what the Ledbetter actually does, they tend to agree that it makes sense.

Prior to Ledbetter, workers had 180 days from the time of the first unequal paycheck to file a complaint for pay discrimination. The problem with the law as written was that companies just had to hide unfair pay practices for 6 months and then they could continue to do so with no legal recourse. In practice, employees tend to not discuss how much they are getting paid with one another, especially if they are new at a company, which would be when one would receive her first paycheck.

The Ledbetter Act says that workers have 180 days from each act of unequal pay to file a complaint, so basically 180 days from each discriminatory paycheck. It does not change the definition of what pay discrimination is, nor does it make it any easier to file a frivolous lawsuit. It simply changes the timeframe when someone can file a lawsuit, taking into account that you may not know about the pay discriminition for years.

President Obama, after signing the bill stated, "If we stay focused, as Lilly did, and keep standing for what's right, as Lilly did, we will close that pay gap and ensure that our daughters have the same rights, the same chances, and the same freedom to pursue their dreams as our sons."

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