Now Is the Time for Lily Ledbetter and Pay Equality

Jan 10 2009 Published by under U.S. Supreme Court

It is unfathomable in the 21st Century that we need to talk about this issue. However it seems that now is the time for legislation that would ensure equal pay for women is passed. Speaker Nancy Pelosi called this a priority of the House.

On the House floor Pelosi said yesterday, “Pay equity, fairness to women in the workplace, the Lilly Ledbetter Act, these are our priorities. I hope that we will have a big, strong vote in Congress today, so the message will go out that this Congress has heard the message of change in the election, that this Congress knows the needs of America’s women that this Congress is prepared to act relevant to the concerns of America’s working families.”

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women earn 76% of what men do. The earnings of women have increased 22% over the past 20 years, but that growth is fueled by women with a college degree. Those without a degree saw their earning remain flat.

A 2003 GAO Study found that in part this earnings gap can be explained by education, hours worked, profession, job tenure, and the fact that women tend to leave the workforce for longer periods of time. The study could not explain completely why women earn less than men.

The reason why they could not find the explanation is because it is not qualified in the data. The earnings gap is a remnant of gender discrimination. It is a bias that comes from the same rules that once fired, or didn’t allow women in certain industries to get married or pregnant. Much has changed in the past few decades, but with Republicans content to pretend that pay inequality does not exist, it is up to Democrats to right this wrong.

There is a difference between pay inequality that is dictated by the market or an employee’s qualifications, and that which is rooted solely in gender. It is illegal to have a pay structure based on race, but we have condoned for too long a pay scale that discriminates on the basis of gender.

The legislation is named after the complainant in the Supreme Court case Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company. The 2007 ruling in this case placed a 180 limitation on an employee’s right to sue in case of race, gender, or pay discrimination.

Democrats have been working since the ruling to pass new legislation to do away with the limitation. They now have the votes in Congress, and a president that is willing to sign the bill. More than anything, this bill will correct a huge wrong done to all minorities by the US Supreme Court.

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