Thursday, January 29, 2009

Three Cheers for Lilly Ledbetter (and Barak Obama and Congress)

I like the headline on Gail Collins' column: Lilly's Big Day. Like others reporting on the momentous occasion of President Obama signing into law the Lilly Ledbetter Pay Discrimination Act, Collins is celebrating not just for Lilly Ledbetter, but for women (and people of color and others who are discriminated against) everywhere.

You probably know who Lilly Ledbetter is and what this legislation is about. If not, read on from Collins' column:
Obama told her story over and over when he campaigned for president: How Ledbetter, now 70, spent years working as a plant supervisor at a tire factory in Alabama. How, when she neared retirement, someone slipped her a pay schedule that showed her male colleagues were making much more money than she was. A jury found her employer, the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, to be really, really guilty of pay discrimination.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled, 5-4, that Ledbetter should have filed her suit within 180 days of the first discriminatory pay check, and they threw out her claim. (As Collins notes, don't the chances of discovering that one is a victim of pay discrimination during the first 6 months on the job seem mighty slim?)

Collins recounts the stories of other female plaintiffs in the "special sorority" that Ledbetter now joins, and her column is well worth a read to learn about these inspiring women whose claims have shaped the law, even as the women themselves received little personal gain from their litigation.

So, here's to Lilly Ledbetter, 70, and recently widowed. Her case won't be retried, and she will receive no back pay from Goodyear, but she's gotten a consolation prize: she danced with the President at the Neighborhood Ball celebrating his inauguration, and she was with him and Michelle Obama today at the White House.

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