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National NOW Times >> Spring 2008  >> Article

Ledbetter Demands Equal Pay, Congress Attempts to Undo Supreme Court Setback

By Pat Reuss, Senior Policy Analyst

Lilly Ledbetter (left) and NOW President Kim Gandy greet senators as they enter the Senate Gallery, urging them to end the filibuster and vote in support of the Fair Pay Restoration Act.

Photo by Melanie Ross Levin

Lilly Ledbetter (left) and NOW President Kim Gandy greet senators as they enter the Senate Gallery, urging them to end the filibuster and vote in support of the Fair Pay Restoration Act.

At the center of the debate around equal pay for women is former Goodyear Tire employee Lilly Ledbetter. Invited to receive a Woman of Courage award at NOW's annual conference this year, Ledbetter has earned this badge of courage for standing up, speaking out, and filing a lawsuit asserting that she deserved redress for years of being paid less than similarly situated men at Goodyear.

In May 2007, the Supreme Court threw out Ledbetter's case, taking away every cent the jury awarded, while shredding almost 30 years of equal pay law and stripping workers of key wage protections under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

The House of Representatives immediately passed a bill, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act, to restore the original interpretation of that landmark workplace civil rights law. And after nearly a year of concerted effort to bring Republican senators aboard, Senate supporters tried to bring up the House bill for a vote in the Senate. But they would have to defeat a Republican filibuster first.

On April 23, a nominally bipartisan group of 57 senators (including every Democratic senator) failed to garner the 60 votes necessary to stop the filibuster, so the bill was tabled. Advocates of equal pay vow to bring this bill up again in the Senate before Congress adjourns in October.

Show Me Your Paycheck

At issue in the Ledbetter case, and in the legislation, is whether the time limit for filing a discrimination complaint is 180 days after the receipt of any discriminatory paycheck (paycheck accrual) OR whether the worker has 180 days only after the FIRST instance of receiving a discriminatory wage, whether or not she knew that she was being discriminated against. The former had been longstanding interpretation the Supreme Court declared the latter to be the new rule.

Unless Congress restores Title VII to its original intent and interpretation, workers concerned about whether they are being paid unfairly would have to poll their co-workers (even if it is against company policy) to compare wages within 180 days of their first paycheck or they could forever lose their right to sue.

Find out how your state ranks in equal pay. Read AAUW's report "State-by-State Data on Women's and Men's Educational Attainment and Earnings."

Contact your senators today and ask them to work harder to pass the Fair Pay Restoration Act. Check out our alert.

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