A Simple Matter of JusticeMay 29, 2008
Thursday is the one-year anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company case. This decision, which went against decades of accepted practice and the Court’s own precedent, severely limited the ability of victims of pay discrimination to have their day in court.
The plaintiff, Lilly Ledbetter, filed a lawsuit against her employer after a co-worker left her an anonymous note telling her that she was being paid less than her male co-workers in the same position were. A jury found that Goodyear violated her rights under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In its appeal of the jury verdict, Goodyear argued that Ledbetter filed her complaint too late and, by a 5-4 margin, the Supreme Court agreed. Title VII requires employees to file within 180 days of “the alleged unlawful employment practice.” The court calculated the deadline from the day Ledbetter received her last discriminatory raise, rather than from the day she received her last discriminatory paycheck—overturning 40 years of EEOC practice and court precedent. As a result, Ledbetter was unable to challenge any discrimination against her, even though the discrimination continued unabated for years and even though she had no way of knowing that she was being paid less, since Goodyear prohibited employees from disclosing wages to colleagues.
While the House acted quickly in passing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act (H.R. 2831) in July 2007 to clarify that each discriminatory paycheck is a separate act of discrimination, the Senate last month narrowly failed to pass a vote to move on to final passage of legislation. Without action by Congress, victims of pay discrimination will have no recourse against continuing discrimination, and employers will be immune from accountability for their discrimination once 180 days have passed.
As we mark the anniversary of the Court’s decision in this case, we are reminded that equal pay for equal work is a simple matter of justice. In this critical election year, many women identify equal pay for equal work as a national priority. I believe that senators’ support of this legislation is a fair measure of where they stand on pay equity for women. See how your representative voted, and then see how your senators voted.
AAUW members have persistently pursued justice in this area, and we won’t stop until the Senate gets it right. Contact your senators again today to send a strong message that this anniversary will not go unnoticed and that pay discrimination will not be tolerated.
AAUW continues to have “I Am the Face of Pay Equity” signs and stickers available for use at AAUW events. Visit AAUW’s Pay Equity web page and download the Pay Equity Resource Kit for ideas, tips, and resources to use in your community throughout the year.