Historically, court cases have a played a major role in American law, and the Lilly Ledbetter Act was a big step for working women all across the country. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) regulates the process by which an employee can formally complain for workplace discrimination. The original provision requires the claim to be filed within 180 of the incident in question, but the Lilly Ledetter Act now allows for looser terms. Proof must be submitted within the 180-day period, but the incident in question can be further in the past.
Who Is Lilly Ledbetter?
Lilly Ledbetter is an Alabama native who was hired on by Goodyear in 1979. She served as an area manager and supervisor in the company’s Gadsden-based tire and rubber plant. Her starting pay was similar to that of men performing the same work, but it started to change over time. By 1997, the lowest paid male area superior earned $4,860 per month. Ledbetter was being paid $3,727 per month. Further disparities arose with her overtime compensation, retirement package and social security benefits.
Ledbetter V. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.
In 1998, Ledbetter received an anonymous note in her office mailbox, which informed her of the pay disparity between her and her male counterparts. After retiring later that same year, Ledbetter filed a lawsuit against Goodyear on the basis of pay discrimination. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission backed her complaint, and she was initially awarded over $3 million in damages. However, Goodyear successfully proved that her claim was barred by the 180-day rule, and the Appellate Court reversed the judgment. In 2007, the Supreme Court declared that the statue of limitations starts on the day that the employer decides to implement the discriminatory wage.
Obama’s First Big Move
Even after losing the trial, Ledbetter continued to lobby in Washington. Goodyear remains the winner in the original court case. Although she has yet to receive any kind of monetary compensation, her efforts paid off nearly a decade after retirement. Democrats quickly responded to the Supreme Court decision of 2007 by drafting a bill that loosened the time requirements. Republicans shot down the draft in 2008, but it was reintroduced and successfully implemented just one year later.
The 111th U.S Congress passed the Lilly Ledbetter Act in 2009 to amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This was the first bill that President Obama officially signed into law. The law officially extends the statue of limitations for when a victim may file a discriminatory claim. Essentially, the 180-day rule resets with each pay period. As long as the victim is still employed under the same pay structure, he or she may file claim for a pay disparity that occurred in the past.
The Ledbetter revival has had a huge impact over the last several years. Many professional and non-profit organizations have backed similar court trials that ended in success for the victims:
- Johnson v. Portfolio Recovery Associates, LLC –Mark Johnson won the argument against his company. The Ledbetter Act allowed him to proceed with his discrimination claim because he had received a discriminatory paycheck one month before he filed.
- Mikula v. Alleghany County of Pennsylvania –Mary Lou Mikula revived her two-year battle after the Ledbetter Act was signed. The Court of Appeals held in favor of her original claim.
- Schengrund v. Penn State University –A group of female medical professors won the right to recover lost wages due to years of pay discrimination among the medical school faculty.
Your Role as the Employer
Unfortunately, many cases of sex-based discrimination in the workforce go undetected or unaddressed. As an employer, it’s important to not get too tangled up in the many loopholes that exist. The world is moving towards full workplace equality, and it’s best to be fair right from the get-go. A discrimination claim can be a costly affair, not to mention a huge scar on your brand.
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