Ledbetter, A Few Observations Upon Its Passage

The Washington Post reports that President Obama will sign S. 181, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, on Thursday, marking the first bill-signing ceremony of his Administration.

The Post story, “Democrats Overturn Barrier to Unequal-Pay Suits,” closes with this:

Ledbetter said in an interview that she was “thrilled, thrilled.” She said the Supreme Court’s ruling means that she never will be able to claim the $360,000 she was awarded by a lower court. But she said: “The people who are working deserve to have this right. . . . I am so excited, I doubt I will be able to sleep tonight.”

Is that right? She will never be able to claim the $360,000? That might be narrowly true, but it’s clear the legislation was written specifically with her complaint in mind. Note the effective date:

This Act, and the amendments made by this Act, take effect as if enacted on May 28, 2007 and apply to all claims of discrimination in compensation under title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (42 U.S.C. 2000e et seq.), the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (29 U.S.C. 621 et seq.), title I and section 503 of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and sections 501 and 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, that are pending on or after that date.

So May 28, 2007, is the effective date. The Supreme Court issued its Ledbetter ruling on May 29, 2007, so Lilly Ledbetter’s suit was still pending then. To this non-lawyer’s reading, it seems like she’ll get another shot at litigation.

If Ledbetter attends the bill-signing ceremony, perhaps that’s a topic a reporter could ask her about.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer spoke on the floor yesterday prior to House passage of the legislation, a recitation of the main talking points. This paragraph stood out, though:

Opponents of this bill might argue that it will lead to more lawsuits. I’d respond that employers who discriminate could end those lawsuits tomorrow, if they paid their female employees fairly. But until that happens, women who face sexism have every right to get the pay, and the respect, they deserve.

We heard this argument on the Senate side, too: Hey, don’t want to be sued? Then don’t discriminate!

By that logic, every discrimination suit filed against an employer is valid, and attorneys never gin up a complaint to pressure a business into shelling out a settlement. If only that were the case.

Counterargument: Don’t want to get sued? Don’t hire anybody!

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