Lilly Ledbetter’s Courageous Acts Pump Up Your Pocketbook
By Gloria Feldt on January 10, 2009
Hey, Women: Want to earn a cool half million?
That’s about what the average woman loses over a career lifetime due to gender inequities in pay for the same jobs as men.
So click here to Speak Up and demand the Senate pass two crucial pieces of legislation so that Barack Obama can sign the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and the Paycheck Fairness Act,
as he has said he would do. In a historic vote, the House of
Representatives on Friday passed both bills by substantial margins,
largely along party lines. A Senate vote could come as early as this
No, these bills aren’t another financial bailout for ailing
industries that don’t deserve them. They’re not a get-rich-quick scheme
from late night television infomercial-land. Nor are they part of the
badly needed but very expensive stimulus package—but they should be.
* Women may lose $434,000 in income, on average, due to the career wage gap.
* Women at all education levels lose significant amounts of income
due to the career wage gap, but women with a college degree or higher
lose $713,000 over a 40-year period versus a $270,000 loss for women
who did not finish high school.
* Women in all occupations suffer from the career wage gap.
* The gap exceeds $300,000 in 15 states, $400,000 in 22 states, and $500,000 in 11 states.
These shocking findings come from the Center for American Progress study, “Lifetime Losses: The Career Wage Gap”, which analyzed the 40-year impact of the gender wage gap in all 50 states, using 10-year age groups of women and men aged 25-64.
If you’re an unmarried woman, the disparity is even greater. While
women overall earn 78 cents to a man’s dollar, unmarried women earn
just 56 cents, according to Women’s Voices, Women Vote.
No surprise then that unmarried women are more likely to file for
bankruptcy, live in poverty along with their children, and be hurt more
by our current economic crisis.
Why are two pieces of legislation needed?
Lisa M. Maatz, American Association of University Women’s director
of public policy and government relations, explains: “The tandem of
both bills is critical, because the Ledbetter bill restores lost
ground, while the Paycheck Fairness Act actually gives more teeth to
the law and will provide better technical assistance and incentives to
employers to follow the law in the first place."
AAUW has mounted a “Keep the Change”
campaign, said Executive Director Linda D. Hallman, because the paltry
1 cent (from 77 to 78 cents on the dollar earned by men) increase from
2006 to 2007 is “chump change, not real change.”
Some Republicans argued that the legislation would be an earmark for trial lawyers. But here’s what the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay bill’s namesake says about why it’s needed, in a letter she wrote to Congress:
Thirty years ago, Goodyear hired me to work as supervisor in their
tire plant in Gadsden, AL. I sometimes wondered how my pay compared to
my colleagues, but there was no way to know for sure because pay levels
were kept strictly confidential.
Thanks to an anonymous tip I received shortly before my retirement,
I finally got some hard evidence of real pay discrimination. I filed a
complaint without delay, and at the trial, the jury found that Goodyear
had discriminated against me in violation of Title VII. The jury
awarded me more than $3 million in back pay and punitive damages.
Unfortunately, that good moment didn’t last long. First, because of
damages caps in Title VII, the trial judge was forced to reduce that
award to $300,000 -- a mere ten percent of what the jury had awarded me
and hardly more than a slap on the wrist to a company the size of
Then, in 2007, my case reached the U.S. Supreme Court. In a disappointing 5-4 ruling
, the justices took away the entire award, including the back pay. The
Court said I should have complained every time I got a smaller raise
than the men, even if I didn’t know what the men were getting paid and
even if I had no way to prove the decision was discriminatory.
Ledbetter still didn’t give up. She says that now she’s fighting for
all the other women and girls who deserve equal pay for equal work.
It’s powerfully symbolic that the first two bills passed by the
111th Congress concerned fair pay for women. Women held the key to the
2008 elections, a fact not unnoticed in Washington’s “art of the
possible” culture, to quote the late great Speaker of the House Tip
O’Neill. The current Speaker, Nancy Pelosi told the New York Times, “This Congress has heard the message of change in the election.”
These bills clearly represent a stiletto boot on George W. Bush’s
behind as he exits: he had promised to veto the legislation had it
reached his desk. Lilly Ledbetter and the large coalition of women’s
organizations that worked diligently, building the support for paycheck
fairness through the difficult Bush years, hope Obama’s first act will
be to sign these bills.
In the department of courageous acts, it’s always up to voters to
make easy for politicians to do the right thing, and difficult for them
By her courage to act, Ledbetter ignited the movement for paycheck fairness that propelled both bills to victory.
So what are you waiting for, Ladies? Act now. You have a half-million at stake. Send your message to your Senators now.
And be sure to cc President-Elect Obama.
Lilly and Me
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