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Equal Pay and Rights of Working Women - A Priority of Congress in 2009

Pay Equity the Intent of Lilly Ledbetter and Paycheck Fairness Acts


Updated March 01, 2012
As the 111th Congress convened in January 2009, Democratic majorities in both the House and the Senate moved forward with legislation aimed at women in the workplace.

On January 9, the US House of Representatives voted to approve two bills that provide support for women fighting for pay equity, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and the Paycheck Fairness Act.

Named after a Goodyear employee who discovered near the end of her career that she'd been the victim of gender-based pay discrimination, the Lilly Ledbetter Act arose from the ashes of a Supreme Court ruling that essentially stripped the plaintiff of her right to pursue compensation under the Equal Pay Act of 1963. The Court determined that Lilly Ledbetter was not eligible for back pay because she had not filed a complaint within 180 days of receiving her first paycheck.

As reported by Dow Jones, the Lilly Ledbetter Act:

...would put in place a six-month statute of limitations for women to sue their employer over pay discrimination. The six months would expire from the time the employees received their last pay check.

It would overturn...a Supreme Court ruling in 2007 [Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.] that stated the six-month period dated from when the employer first decided to pay the female employee less than her male counterparts....

Like the Lilly Ledbetter Act, the Paycheck Fairness Act was drafted to support already existing legislation that employers have been dodging for years. First envisioned by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) nearly a decade ago, the bill has steadily gained support over the years.

According to the Hartford Courant:

DeLauro's bill is designed to close loopholes and bolster provisions of the decades-old Equal Pay Act. It makes it easier for workers to sue employers for discrimination and allows workers, for the first time, to collect limitless punitive and compensatory damages....[It] also opens up employees' ability to share salary information with co-workers without reprisal, and it provides salary-negotiation training courses for girls and women.
The Courant reported that in arguing for both the Ledbetter Act and her own Paycheck Fairness Act, Delauro stated:
With our economy in crisis, so many women are on the edge, financially. We know that it does not have to be this way. We have a chance to finally provide equal pay for equal work and make opportunity real for millions of American women.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also gave her support to the two bills in a speech from the floor of the House on January 9, 2000:
...I really speak from the heart on this...because if women are not paid fairly in the course of their work years, it has an impact on their retirement as well....[T]his has an impact on our entire economy....And as Speaker of the House, I am pleased that in the first week of the new Congress this is the primary legislation they're putting forward.

Pay equity, fairness to women in the workplace, the Lilly Ledbetter Act, these are our priorities....[T]his Congress has heard the message of change in the election... this Congress knows the needs of America's women...this Congress is prepared to act relevant to the concerns of America's working families.

The warm reception the two bills received in the 111th Congress is yet another indication of the change in attitude toward working women's concerns. Although both the Ledbetter and Paycheck Fairness Acts passed the House during last year's Congress, all further action stopped there. As a January 10, 2009 editorial in the Los Angeles Times notes:
Democrats largely supported it. But Republicans overwhelmingly opposed the measure as anti-business. President Bush, calling the bill a job killer, threatened to veto it, and...the Senate, unable to amass enough votes to hold off a filibuster, did not vote....[T]oday...we do know what's in store for Ledbetter and other workers, male and female, who are paid less because of gender: access to justice. The act, which President-elect Obama is eager to sign, states the obvious: that a violation occurs with every paycheck that continues a discriminatory practice....The Senate is scheduled to take up both bills in days to come.

These measures deserve swift passage and presidential approval. Prudent employers will take stock of Washington's changed politics and use this moment to set right their training, hiring, promotion and pay practices.

The two bills were the second and third pieces of legislation voted on by the House in 2009.

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