WASHINGTON (Jan. 26, 2009)—By a 61-36 vote, the Senate has passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which reinterprets Title VII of the Civil Rights Act to expand the rights of women and minorities to sue their employers for pay discrimination.
The law is named for Lilly Ledbetter, a retired supervisor at Goodyear's Gadsden, Ala., plant, who sued Goodyear after discovering she was paid 15 percent less than the lowest-paid male supervisor at Gadsden. In a controversial 2007 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that Ledbetter had no right to sue, because the letter of Title VII stated that a worker could only claim pay discrimination within 180 days of the first discriminatory paycheck.
The Ledbetter Act restates Title VII to support Ledbetter's contention that each paycheck after the original discriminatory paycheck compounds the original discrimination, thus allowing workers to sue within 180 days of their most recent paychecks.
Business interests split sharply with labor and civil rights advocates on the Ledbetter bill.
“Goodyear believes the proposed law erodes one of the underlying principles of Title VII, which is to encourage individuals to report concerns about discrimination promptly,” said Ledbetter's former employer, which also stated its opposition to pay discrimination. “Under the proposed law, employers will also be placed in the unfair position of defending claims that are years if not decades old.”
But the National Women's Law Center, an advocacy group for women's rights, hailed the Senate vote as a victory for women.
“The Senate passage of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act means that women's ability to challenge unequal pay will be restored,” said NWLC Co-President Marcia D. Greenberger in a press statement. “We celebrate today with women and their families who can once again stand up and fight for the pay they so desperately need and deserve.”
The bill now goes back to the House, which passed its own version of the Ledbetter bill. It is expected to approve the Senate version quickly and send it to President Obama for signing.