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April 21, 2008

FDL Welcomes Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton On The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act

Posted in: Citizen action,Civil rights,Congress,Feminism,Gender,Labor,Legal,Women's issues

[We are pleased to welcome Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton to FDL to discuss the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. Please stay on topic and be polite. Any off-topic discussions should be taken to the prior thread. Thanks! -- CHS]

In the video at left, provided by Alliance for Justice, you can hear Lilly Ledbetter tell you in her own words about the gender pay discrimination she discovered had been going on for 19 years of her employment — and only by an anonymous note. As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said from the bench in her blistering oral dissent to the majority’s decision in the Ledbetter case:

In our view, the court does not comprehend, or is indifferent to, the insidious way in which women can be victims of pay discrimination.

Title VII was meant to govern real-world employment practices, and that world is what the court today ignores.

Justice Ginsburg founded the women’s rights project at the ACLU, and for years was the champion of all women seeking respect, parity and equal opportunities in the workplace and beyond. Her words were borne out of the real world experience that both she and Justice O’Connor had to endure out of law school — being offered secretarial positions or being rejected outright for jobs because they were women.

Any woman who has had to fight her way into a position, or prove herself worthy of even being considered as comparable to her male counterparts — because of fears that she might have children, or a family to care for, or "female issues" or whatever other excuse is used to keep her behind even when she was overqualified for the job — any woman who has walked in those shoes can tell you how difficult it can be to rise above in-grown discriminatory attitudes and practices.

It isn’t as though employers announce outright that they are treating one class of employees differently from others — they don’t exactly say "the folks with a uterus are making less money for the same exact job again this year," now do they? And yet, Lilly Ledbetter found out that’s what had been happening to her.

Thankfully, in the wake of the Ledbetter decision, the House of Representatives acted swiftly to rectify the sweeping dismissal of long-term precedent that the Roberts’ Court overturned in its majority decision. The Senate takes up that legislation this week, and supporters of the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act could use your help. For starters, as the ACLU points out:

…The Ledbetter decision not only reversed years of employment law, it also ignored the realities of a workplace. Often employees don’t know what their co-workers are paid; an expectation that they learn that information within the first 180 days of a pay decision is unreasonable. Unless Congress intervenes, companies will be able to discriminate for years and unjustly profit from paying women, minorities, the elderly, and people with disabilities less, as long as it keeps the discrimination secret for a few months.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed "The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act" (H.R. 2831) to correct this problem, and to ensure employers do not profit from years of discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, and disability, simply because their employees were unaware of the discrimination for 180 days. The bill clarified this wage discrimination is not a one-time occurrence, but rather, that each discriminatory paycheck an employer issues represents an ongoing violation of the law.

This is how the law had been interpreted for years, until the Roberts’ Court overruled that interpretation precedent in one fell swoop. As AFJ’s fact sheet on the Ledbetter case states, since the decision last year, the case has been cited in 207 federal cases nationwide — there is a reason that swift action on the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act is essential to protect works against discriminatory pay practices.

We’re asking that you contact your Senators and tell them to support the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act (H.R. 2831). The ACLU has set up an easy contact tool to e-mail your Senators, as has the National Women’s Law Center. Phone numbers for Senators can be found here.

One of the most vocal proponents of the legislation has been Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, who joins us at FDL today to talk about the legislation, why it is important for all of us — and what you can do to help. And with that, I welcome Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, and open the floor for discussion and your questions. 

(For those who want additional information, Echidne has a great three-part series on the gender gap and pay discrimination. Ann at Feministing has blogged on this as well.)



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