Thursday, January 29, 2009

no money for something

The president signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act today – the first significant piece of legislation of this administration. The name may have slipped the mind but the Supreme Court decision last year was an abomination. If you don’t want to wander hither-and-yon to read the details, I’ll try to summarize the basics as best I can:

Mrs. Ledbetter worked at a Goodyear plant in Alabama for twenty years. Her pay for the position she held was about 40% less than her male counterparts but she didn’t realize it until near the end of her career. She filed an EEOC complaint for discrimination immediately after learning of the discrimination. She won her case with the award totaling $300,000 for punitive damages (the limit), and $60,000 for two years of back pay; the two years is also the maximum allowed under the law. Goodyear appealed and won which led to Ledbetter taking the case all the way to the Supreme Court where she lost the case. The majority ruled, or interpreted, that the statute of limitations for filing a pay discrimination complaint is limited to 180 days from the initial discrimination – or something like 18 years earlier. Ledbetter argued that every paycheck was effectively discrimination and so the clock reset every pay period; it’s sort of hard to file for discrimination if aren’t aware of it until years later. Ledbetter, at the time she finished working that job for 19 years was still making $6,000 less per year than the newest, and lowest tenured, employee doing her same job. All the other employees working the same position were also male. It was heartwarming to see that that the Goodyear’s Gadsden, Alabama factory, after the case, transferred a 60-year-old woman to a job that required her to carry Hummer tires. That’s a quality company.

The Congress attempted to pass a new law last session after the Supreme Court ruling but it was filibustered by Senate Republicans. Some of their arguments involved lawyers making money, huge payouts to discrimination filers, and endless cases. From what I’ve heard and read, the $300,000 and two-year back pay numbers are maximum limits so any cases, with the law as it was written, wouldn’t climb into the multi-millions. The new law passed last year merely adjusted the statute of limitations. And why wouldn’t it? Who knows how much co-workers make? Why would you ask if you didn’t know anything was wrong? Essentially, the Supreme Court ruling implied that as long as a corporation could snow someone for six months then they could continue that behavior until the end of time with no recourse on the employee’s side.

Even though Lilly Ledbetter didn’t benefit for the new Act, we’ve finally arrived at a solution that’s been accomplished by making the system work as it should have in the first place: Congress passing the bill and the president signing it into law. Well done.

Author’s note: all profanity-laced tirades directed at Chief Justice Roberts; Justices Alito, Thomas, Scalia, Kennedy; and John McCain, have been censored.

Have a nice day.

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