History of the Case:
In 1998, Lily Ledbetter, a newly retired plant worker for Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company, decided to investigate and later prosecute against her long time employer due to gender pay discrimination. After working at the Goodyear , she received an anonymous note in her company mailbox. The note listed her salary and the salaries of three men who worked the same job as she did. Initially, when Ledbetter started working at Goodyear in 1979, she was receiving the same pay as the men she worked alongside, but through the years and salary raises by the time she reached retirement she was receiving about $559 less per month than the lowest paid men and $1509 per month than the highest paid men!
Lilly Ledbetter, after finding out that she was receiving unequal pay, decided to file charges against Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company. She filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). She went to the lower court, suing Goodyear using the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Equal Pay Act of 1963. The lower court allowed her to sue based on the Civil Rights Act, but not the Equal Pay Act of 1963. She claimed that Goodyear was treating her unequally based on her gender; Goodyear replied that their pay system was non-discriminatory and based upon worker competence. Ledbetter was denied because according to the EEOC, she could only sue within 180 days of her beginning the EEOC process. This means she had 180 days to sue from her first paycheck, not when she found out 20 years later.
Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act
After the Supreme Court ruled against Ledbetter, Rep. George Miller of California introduced the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in June 2007. It was passed in the House, but defeated in the Senate. Why would anyone oppose something called the “Fair Pay Act”? Who would vote against fair and equal pay for everyone? Senate Republicans, who said that this would cause frivolous lawsuits. Even Governor Sarah Palin was against the bill, saying it would be a “boon for trial lawyers,” but insisting that her and Sen. John McCain were “all for equal pay for equal work.”
The bill was re-introduced at The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 by Sen. Barbara Miluski of Maryland in January 2009. The vote passed the Senate, then the House.
The bill was then up for consideration from President Barack Obama. He had supported Lilly Ledbetter throughout his candidacy, and he chose this bill to be the first piece of legislation he would sign as President. He signed the bill into law on January 29, 2009.
Unfortunately, this bill does not extend the statute of limitations for as long as Lilly Ledbetter and Congress Democrats intended it to. It only extends it for another 180 days, which would mean that the entire statute of limitations equals 360 days, or just short of one year. Congress attempted to update the law to extend the time, but the Bush White House and Senate Republicans blocked the legislation in the last session of Congress. However, the 360-day statute of limitations starts at the last discriminatory paycheck.
Relevance to Sociology of Family:
Women currently make 77 cents to the male dollar on average, which desperately needs to change. Even in professions dominated by women, men make substantially more money. Minority women also make less than white women. Women and single mothers are more likely to be in poverty than men.
Large-scale change from the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act won’t be immediate. Hopefully with the threat of possible lawsuits, employers will fall in line, and pay men and women equally. The Act is a step in the right direction, but much work must be done to ensure that women are being paid equally, without exception.
As Obama claims, “Equal pay is by no means just a women's issue -- it's a family issue”. With equal pay, there would be more money for the family. Many costs are associated with raising children. Health care, food (hopefully nutritional), school supplies, college, gas, books, toys, and extracurricular activities are some of the expenses. Many families can only afford the bare minimum, especially in our current economic times. Equal pay would eliminate some of the financial strain.
Questions: Please respond to one of us in the comments section. (Make sure you identify who you're responding to).
Do you think that the court was being discriminatory towards Ledbetter when they said she should have filed suit within 180 days of her first paycheck instead of from the 180 days she found out the difference in pay? If not, do you feel that this part of the bill was unfair to everyone?
How will the passing of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act affect the future of feminism? Does the Act contribute to the notion that feminism is no longer needed?
How has unequal pay between the genders influenced you or someone you know? Has unequal pay affected your family in any way, or do you think it will affect you and your family in the future?
Do you think employers will now change their discriminatory pay practices? If yes, how do you think this change will affect families in the future?