Saturday, February 14, 2009

President Obama’s Very First Bill - Equal Pay for Equal Work – a Great Start.

In his very first week in office, President Obama signed his first bill into law- the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, a law named for a woman who was a supervisor for 19 years at a Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company factory in Alabama.

Towards the end of her retirement from Goodyear, Ms. Ledbetter discovered that she was being paid less than her male colleagues. She sued the company for pay discrimination. The case ultimately made its way to the United States Supreme Court, which dismissed it, ruling that Ms. Ledbetter should have filed her suit within 180 days of the date that Goodyear first paid her less than her male colleagues. Congress then attempted to pass a law to overturn that decision. Former President Bush, however, opposed the bill contending it would encourage lawsuits. The new Congress, however, passed the bill and President Obama signed it into law. The law restarts the 6-month statute of limitation each time the worker receives a paycheck.

In signing the bill, President Obama said: “It is fitting that with the very first bill I sign — the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act — we are upholding one of this nation’s first principles: that we are all created equal and each deserve a chance to pursue our own version of happiness.”

We applaud that the very first bill the President signs affords equal rights protection to women. It also shows the President’s firm commitment to a sound national employment policy. It makes no rational, practical or moral sense to discriminate against women by paying them less than men for the same work, and then barring pay disparity lawsuits altogether by imposing stringent requirements.

It is not entire clear as to why a law to prohibit pay disparity would encourage lawsuits. Had the employer not discriminated against women in the first place, there would be no need for lawsuits. And in any event, a law designed to encourage lawsuits is also designed to discourage discrimination. A law such as this may not entirely prevent wage discrimination, but it will certainly encourage employers to pay its employees equally.