Thursday, January 29, 2009

Some thoughts on the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009

Imagine this, you are a woman supervisor in a plant with 16 other male managers and find out that after twenty years on the job, your pay is 20% to 40% less than all the other male supervisors. Imagine that once you learn that, you promptly file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC, get a right to sue letter, and actually win your trial before a jury which awards you $360,000. Then imagine that the verdict is taken away by a U.S. Supreme Court which holds that you had only 180 days from the FIRST moment the pay disparity began to occur, not when you finally learned about it.

This is precisely what happened to Lilly Ledbetter, and was the holding of the Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company case before the Supreme Court. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the Court's only female justice, protested loud and long in her dissent, and urged Congress to fix the purported problem upon which the majority had hung its judicial mantle in reversing the verdict.

Now imagine it's two years later, and you are standing next to the President of the United States, who hugs and kisses you as he signs into law the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009. No, it's not worth $360,000 --- not to you --- but it will hopefully be worth more than that to millions of employees who do not receive fair pay due to their age, sex, religion, race, or qualified disability.

So said President Obama today, during the White House signing ceremony, when he announced to Ms. Ledbetter and the assembled guests:
"It is fitting that with the very first bill I sign ... 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.… If we stay focused, as Lilly did, and keep standing for what's right, as Lilly did, we will close that pay gap and ensure that our daughters have the same rights, the same chances, and the same freedom to pursue their dreams as our sons."
It is uplifting to see that the lawmaking process as originally conceived by our country's founders works. It is heartwarming to see an individual disenfranchised by the courts vindicated by the Congress. More importantly, it is a testament to what the workplace of the future has to start looking like.

Finally, it is a warning shot across the bows of employers who fail to engage in enlightened human resources management.

For another blogger's take on the Bill, see this post.


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