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Monday, June 11, 2007
Equal Pay?
I found this interesting. What are your thoughts?

Editorial -Sterile thinking on pay equity
Published June 4, 2007

Under federal law, it's illegal for employers to discriminate on the basis of sex, so Lilly Ledbetter should have had a good claim against Goodyear Tire & Rubber.

When she started at its Gadsden, Ala., plant in 1979, she was paid the same as her male colleagues, but by the time she left in 1998, she was the only woman at her management level and was making less than the lowest-paid man. A federal court found she had been wronged. She was awarded $360,000.But last week the Supreme Court, by a 5-4 vote, said it didn't matter whether her employer broke the law. The Civil Rights Act of 1964, it noted in an opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito, says any claims must be filed within 180 days of the discriminatory act. The decisions that had the effect of shortchanging her had been made more than six months before she filed her suit. So she was out of luck.

Time limits for civil rights cases make sense, so that companies don't have to defend themselves against charges that should have been raised long ago, instead of postponed until evidence has vanished and memories have faded. The problem here is not the notion of applying the time limit to Ledbetter, but the way the court applied it. It essentially said that the pay discrimination occurs only when a biased decision is made and never mind the repeated later occasions when it is translated into actual compensation.

Ledbetter, by contrast, made the eminently sensible argument that each paycheck she got reflected ongoing discrimination, a view shared by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which supported her suit. In her dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg agreed.

"Our precedent suggests, and lower courts have overwhelmingly held, that the unlawful practice is the current payment of salaries infected by gender-based [or race-based] discrimination -- a practice that occurs whenever a paycheck delivers less to a woman than to a similarly situated man," she wrote. Under the court's decision, she said with justified amazement, "knowingly carrying past discrimination forward must be treated as lawful conduct."

The majority's sterile reading of the statute ignores the realities on the ground. A woman who is fired on the basis of sex knows she has been fired. But a woman who suffers pay discrimination may not discover it until years later, because employers often keep pay scales confidential. The consequence of the ruling will be to let a lot of discrimination go unpunished.

Unless, of course, Congress acts to revise the law to reflect the dictates of common sense. Democratic leaders in both houses have already announced their plans to do exactly that. The court's decision was a mistake. Congress should waste no time correcting it.

Copyright © 2007, Chicago Tribune

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posted by Julie at 5:43 PM ¤ Permalink ¤


  • At 6/11/2007 06:25:00 PM, Blogger Linda

    I wonder what the decision would have been if the plantiff had been of a minority race and received the same treatment as this woman. My gut says that the court would have decided for the plaintiff in such a case because the justices wouldn't want to be seen as being racist. Another reason for my thinking is that in many circles it is thought that women are no longer discriminated against, that they have reached equal access and pay. (Then again, I suppose there are some who believe that minorities are no longer discriminated against, too, and maybe I'm just spouting malarkey!)

    I think having a deadline of 180 days for filing suit shows a good deal of ignorance about how victims (of anything) often respond. Discrimination, vitually by definition, is a blow to one's personhood and, I presume, would create in some a loss of the confidence associated with one's dignity as a human being. It seems as though it would take a while to build up the confidence to do something about one's situation afterward. Bad decision.

  • At 6/12/2007 01:17:00 AM, Blogger Mike Clawson

    180 days hardly seems like enough time to even figure out what's going on, figure out what the law says about it, and then navigate the bureaucratic jungle of the American legal system to figure out what you're supposed to do about it.

  • At 6/12/2007 03:15:00 PM, Blogger Michele L

    I completely agree with the time element. It seems like just to gather all the appropriate info to make a claim more than likely would take quite a while.

    I personally believe women in these situations still feel intimidated in bringing these issues to light. It can cause quite the stir. I just had this discussion with my dad the other day. Even though it was a good talk, it was amazing that the underlying tone was, women don't make enough because of the time they take off for their kids etc. I didn't say anything to him, but it still frustrates me. I don't know many men that decide to take time off when their children are born. Those decisions end up falling in the women's lap. Seeing as the men can not give birth to the children, so many just see it as an extention of the process. So it comes across, "well too bad for the women, but there are legit reasons that the pay differences happen...guys just put in more time".

    I am even trying to work through this some my self. I got pregnant with my daughter while in college. At the time, I didn't make much money. I sort of stumbled it to staying home, because my income would barely cover childcare. However, I finished school (but continued to stay home because WE decided that is what we wanted). Now I am trying to go back for my masters degree, and work toward the career I had wanted a long time ago. It hasn't been easy. My husband is working his way up the ladder, and has gotten very used to me taking care of everything within our home. This will be changing, and hasn't been completely supported.

    So from my position, there are so many factors that play into these senarios. The time should not be so limited, and it is so unfortunate that this still continues to happen. Hopefully someday, women will really be "equal" and these pay situations will be looked at from more of a family situation (ie. men would keep in mind that their wives are hard working and should be treated equal).

  • At 6/13/2007 02:42:00 PM, Blogger Amy

    I agree that the 180 days is a much too tight timeframe. Having worked in Compensation in the past, companies tend to keep salary information highly confidential, often times not even sharing the salary range for a particular job with the employee in that position.

    As a result, it's very likely that she didn't know of the discriminitory act at the time it happened. She may have found out over time as fellow employees leeked salary information or started figuring it out as a manager/director who had employees making more than her.

    Then, once the discovery is made, there's the process of determining whether or not there is a reason for the discrepancy, the initial contact with an attorney and the underlying fear that this job is your livelyhood...are you really willing to sacrifice your job for a lawsuit that may or may not pan out. It's a big deal. The law needs changing and this lady deserves some compensation.

  • At 6/14/2007 06:18:00 AM, Blogger wilsford

    weighing in with the minority viewpoint (disclaimer to follow):

    what? she was with the company for 19 years and never realized she was being underpaid? i honestly believe that i have been paid less at every job i've ever held than i would have been paid had i been male except for the military, a union job and now, since i am on scholarship at a state university.

    being paid less than male peers is no news, especially since she was working way back in '79. HELLO?

    ON the other hand, i fully agree that the 180-day limit does not take into account how people respond to discriminatory behavior.


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