Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act Signed into LawJanuary 29, 2009
“This is a wonderful day.”
Those are the words President Obama spoke moments before signing his first bill into law, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. The law makes it easier for workers to seek redress for discrimination on the job. By his side was Lilly Ledbetter, the woman for whom the bill is named and perhaps the best-known face of pay equity. For nearly two decades at the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company in Gadsden, Alabama, Ledbetter worked for less money than male co-workers with the same job. She lost more than $200,000 in salary, benefits, and retirement savings due to pay discrimination. After her November 1998 retirement, she filed suit under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and was awarded back pay and other remedies in a jury trial. The U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision not only erased Ledbetter’s award, but also left women, minorities, and others in Ledbetter’s situation with virtually no recourse to pay discrimination.
AAUW members and supporters worked tirelessly for the last year and a half on this bill, calling, e-mailing, and meeting with their representatives and senators; writing letters to the editor; and spreading the word to their friends and family. We are ecstatic that this law was the first one moved through Congress and signed by our new president, and we hope to experience this euphoria again soon when our hard work pays off on the Paycheck Fairness Act, too.
As President Obama spoke before signing the bill, I followed some of the discussion about it on Twitter here and here. While most of the comments were positive, some naysayers commented that this was a victory for trial lawyers and the “sue happy.” Whatever individual motivations there may be, Ledbetter’s decision to keep fighting despite the fact that she can’t personally benefit from the law will have a strong impact on women, families, people of color, and all Americans, especially in these hard economic times.
President Obama said that he was signing the bill for his daughters and those who would come afterward. The bill, he said, upholds one of the nation’s founding principles, that all people are created equal and that everyone deserves an equal opportunity.
Thank you, Lilly Ledbetter.