If you watched the debate between President Obama and presidential hopeful Mitt Romney earlier this week, you surely heard about the law President Obama passed not long after taking office. It was a free for all – even with no punches thrown – and there were some great points made, even better sound bites and, of course, no clear choice for undecided voters who were hoping to be swayed one way or the other. Still, we were wondering about the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, so we thought we’d delve into it and bring to our readers what we learned.
Between 1979 and 1998, Lilly Ledbetter worked as a supervisor at Goodyear Tire and Rubber’s plant in Gadsden, Alabama. At the time of her hiring, she was earning as much as her male counterparts. By the time she retired, however, she was earning just 2/3 of the pay her male co-workers were earning. The case made it to the Supreme Court and initially, it ruled that an employee has only 180 days to file a discrimination claim, from the time the employer decides to pay the claimant less. This applied even if that employee was unaware that she was earning less than co-workers in the same position as she. Of course, in this case, all of her co-workers were male.
If more than 180 days had passed from the time a male co-worker began earning more – either via raises or new hires – that employee had no protection. It also ruled in this case that since more than 180 days had passed since Ms Ledbetter was first paid less, she would not receive any of the compensatory funds or damages that she was seeking. Worse, she was forced to return any money over her salary that she’d received. By 2007, the law had changed that eliminated the 180 day rule. That still meant, however, that Ms Ledbetter was left out of the difference in pay for those 18 years. It should be noted this was one of the platforms then-Senator Obama campaigned on and indeed, he wasted no time changing the law. This law made it possible for women who wanted to file suit against their employers with no restrictions regarding time.
It was soon learned, via the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics, that there were hundreds of thousands of women who qualified. Women are paid less money in every occupational classification. Keep in mind, too, there are millions of single moms who are making their mortgage payments, their credit card payments and often paying down student loans and even daycare for their little ones. In the nearly five decades that the Equal Pay Act was signed into law by President Kennedy, the National Organization for Women reveals the gap in pay between men and women employees has narrowed by only half a cent per year. Currently, women still only earn about 77 cents on the dollar as their male counterparts. For black women, that number is just 71 cents on the dollar and Latina women are earning just 59 cents on the dollar.
The General Accounting Office reports the pay in management between men and women actually widened between 1995 and 2008.
According to the law itself, it is applicable:
- when a discriminatory compensation decision or other discriminatory practice affecting compensation is adopted;
- when the individual becomes subject to a discriminatory compensation decision or other discriminatory practice affecting compensation; or
- when the individual’s compensation is affected by the application of a discriminatory compensation decision or other discriminatory practice, including each time the individual receives compensation that is based in whole or part on such compensation decision or other practice.
So what does Ms Ledbetter say about the current debates between Obama and Romney? It’s interesting. She told reporters that vice presidential hopeful Paul Ryan actually voted against the measure; Romney also opposes it. Further, she voices concerns that Mitt Romney has yet to clearly provide his true position on the law. She also said the law has resulted in many employers rethinking their operating procedures and processes and as a result, all employees are being treated far more fairly.
Meanwhile, on the campaign trail over the past few days, President Obama has continued to play that high point from the debate, saying on Thursday,
We don’t have to order up some binders to find qualified, talented, driven young women who can learn and excel,
Obama during a campaign event in New Hampshire. Vice President Obama also had something to say about Romney’s position on women as little more than a “1950s time warp”. Clearly, the campaign has taken a focus to the fairer sex; indeed women have become quite powerful in national elections – the smart candidates will play into this and ideally, Romney will be able to downplay the “binders of women” comment that’s landed him in hot water.
What are your thoughts? Do you think Romney made a decision that could cost him the presidency? Do you think the Lilly Ledbetter law goes far enough?
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