Every woman

Our view: Lilly Ledbetter Act sends the right message, equal pay for equal work

January 30, 2009

Lilly Ledbetter got her just reward yesterday. It wasn't an apology from the Supreme Court justices who wrongly rejected her pay discrimination claim last year. And it wasn't the years of back pay she was unjustly denied by the Alabama tire company plant that employed her for 19 years. Mrs. Ledbetter was at the White House yesterday, standing behind President Barack Obama as he signed his first significant piece of legislation into law. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act gives workers more time to challenge in court pay disparities. It should reinforce what Mrs. Ledbetter's fight was all about - equal pay for equal work.

At a time when glass ceilings remain resiliently strong, Mrs. Ledbetter's story resonated with many. As she was nearing retirement, she realized that her company had been paying her less than the men doing the same job. She filed a lawsuit, and a lower court upheld her pay complaint. But the Supreme Court reversed the decision, saying Mrs. Ledbetter's complaint had to be filed within 180 days from the time when her employer began paying her less than the men.

That ruling was completely at odds with what goes on in workplaces. Salaries for the most part are confidential. How could Mrs. Ledbetter - or anyone in her shoes - have known she was earning less than her male colleagues?

Congress tried to pass a bill that would relax the filing restrictions, but President George W. Bush opposed it. Yesterday, Mrs. Ledbetter and Maryland Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, the sponsor of the Ledbetter law, knew they were in good hands. After Mr. Obama signed the bill, each received a ceremonial pen, a keepsake for a job well done.

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