The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 has passed the Senate and could be on President Obama's desk within days. The wage-discrimination statute, Senate Bill 181, reverses a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2007, which narrowly defines the time period during which an employee can file a claim of wage discrimination. This may be the first piece of legislation signed by the new President. Obama has been a strong advocate for the legislation. Lilly Ledbetter, the plaintiff in the lawsuit that inspired the legislation, was invited to the inauguration.
The bill was approved during the first week of the new congressional session, perhaps indicative of the momentum behind the expected pieces of labor legislation.
In Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tires, the case at the center of the legislation's history, the Court held that the discriminatory act, which starts the clock running on the time period to file a claim, occurs at the time of the discriminatory decision. In other words, in a failure-to-promote claim, the date of the promotion decision is the date when the clock begins to run. Ledbetter argued that the clock would begin to run each time a new paycheck was issued because each paycheck represented a new discriminatory act--the unequal payment of wages. Ledbetter claimed that she did not know that she had been getting paid less than her male counterparts until a note was left in her mailbox at the end of her 19-year career with the company.
Opponents of the law contend that it will effectively eliminate a statute of limitations period and could result in increased filings of unmeritorious lawsuits. Employers will be hard pressed to "disprove" the decision- making process involved in a pay raise issued 20 years earlier.
A middle ground, offered by Republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson would have started the time period when the employee knew or had reason to know that discrimination was occurring. Hutchinson said her alternative would protect both employee and employer.
The alternative was rejected by women's-rights advocates, as the issue has become one largely divided on gender lines. Women's-rights groups argue that the law is necessary to protect women from continued unequal pay. Very little has been mentioned about the fact that the Ledbetter bill would apply to other protected classes, such as race, ethnicity, and national origin--not just gender.
What Other Great Minds Have to Say
Several e-law bloggers have already issued their insights on the legislation, so have a look at some of these posts to learn more about the ins and outs of what may be the first pro-employee legislation passed in 2009:
John Phillips at The Word on Employment Law, Fair Pay Act Ready to Become Law
Michael Moore at the PA Labor and Employment Blog, Ledbetter Fair Pay Act passed by Senate and awaiting Obama Signature
Jon Hyman at the OH Employment Law blog, Ledbetter passes Senate – President’s signature is next
Frank Steinberg at the NJ Employment Law Blog, Ledbetter Act Passes Senate
Ross Runkel at LawMemo, Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 awaits President's Signature
Dennis Westlind at The World of Work, Senate Passes Lilly Ledbetter Bill 61-36
Dan Schwartz at the CT Employment Law Blog, Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 Passes Senate, 61-36; President Will Sign
Tracing the Story Back to the Beginning
And to read about the bill since its inception, see the following posts:
Equal Pay Becomes Front Runner as Lilly Ledbetter Act Takes Center Stage
Equal Pay: Fair Pay Restoration Act Voted Down in Senate
More Fodder for the Fair Pay Debate
A New Day for Employers
Employers should stay tuned to what may be the first in a series of legislation that advocates for employees to the disadvantage of businesses.