In a solid victory for workers in the United States, President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act into law yesterday. After winning enough votes in the House of Representatives and the Senate to be passed on to the President’s desk, it became the first piece of legislation to bear his signature. Civil rights movements, the Unitarian Universalist denomination, and countless dedicated individuals have been fighting wage discrimination for decades.
The Fair Pay Restoration Act removes restrictions on the length of time a worker has to file a wage discrimination lawsuit against an employer. Lilly Ledbetter, for whom the new law is named, had worked at the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company in Gadsden, Alabama for 20 years before she realized that although she had the same skills and training, she was being paid up to 40% less than her male colleagues. Many employees don’t learn about pay disparities and their rights to claim equal pay for the work that they have done until well into their careers. The Lilly Ledbetter Act makes it possible for those who may have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars due to wage discrimination based on age, gender, ethnicity, religion or disability to seek and win legal recourse no matter how much time has gone by.
Seventy-year-old Lilly Ledbetter has been working selflessly towards the passage of this law since the Supreme Court ruling two years ago that denied her rights to the money she lost. Speaking to First Lady Michelle Obama Lilly says, “I will never see a cent from my case. But with the passage and the president’s signature today, I have an even richer reward. I know my daughters and granddaughters and your daughters and your granddaughters will have a better deal.”
The First Lady’s comments at the reception she held for Ms Ledbetter expressed her solidarity with “women of all racial and ethnic backgrounds, older women, younger women, women with disabilities and their families” by recognizing the new law as a “cornerstone of a broader commitment to address the needs of working women who are looking to … not only ensure that they’re treated fairly, but also to ensure that there are policies in place that help women and men balance their work and family obligations without putting their jobs or their economic security at risk”. The President stated, “Signing this bill today is sending a clear message: that making our economy work means making sure it works for everyone.”
On a personal level, I couldn’t be happier, and I couldn’t agree more. I think I’ll take a walk by the White House this evening in a silent expression of gratitude.