[OPINION] Civil Rights, Equality Still Relevant: Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act Signed Jan. 29

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By Elizabeth Williams-Riley

As President Barack Obama was recently sworn into oath for a second term, it reminds us of the first bill protecting our civil rights that he signed into law four years ago—the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009. The Act amended the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and states that the 180-day statute of limitations for filing an equal-pay lawsuit regarding pay discrimination resets with each new paycheck affected by that discriminatory action.

Lilly Ledbetter’s plight of inequality is not uncommon for people of all races and religions, ages, and genders. A supervisor at Goodyear Tire and Rubber’s plant in Gadsden, Ala., she worked from 1979 until her retirement in 1998. During most of those years, she served as an area manager, which was a position occupied primarily by men. Although Ledbetter’s salary was initially equal to those of men performing similar work, over time her pay differed compared her male counterparts with equal or less seniority. By the end of 1997, Ledbetter was the only woman working as an area manager and her pay discrepancy was significant: Ledbetter received $3,727 each month, while the lowest paid male area manager was paid $4,286 monthly and the highest paid $5,236.

President Obama’s signing of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 directly addressed Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., a U.S. Supreme Court decision that the statute of limitations for presenting an equal-pay lawsuit starts when the employer makes the initial discriminatory wage decision, not on the date of the most recent paycheck. In other words, the court originally ruled that employees subject to pay discrimination such as Ledbetter must file a claim within 180 days of the employer’s original decision to pay them less, even if the employee continues to receive reduced paychecks and even if the employee doesn’t discover the discriminatory pay reduction in his or her workplace until much later.

Although this law has been altered, women, people from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups, LGBT individuals, individuals with disabilities, and numerous others continue to face inequality in jobs, in pay, in power, as well as other areas within society. Take women in the workplace. While the pipeline of young women in middle management and professional roles is an encouraging 50 percent, the percentage of women in top leadership positions at Fortune 1000 companies remains in the single digits—and what’s disturbing is that number hasn’t changed significantly in more than a decade.

Ledbetter echoed the slow-moving progress for equality in an NBC News interview. She said she’s overjoyed by President Obama’s reelection—“I no longer have to worry about the Ledbetter Bill being repealed”—but “we are still a long way from equal pay and equal benefits.” The simple truth is, no individual should be devalued in his or her compensation and efforts to provide the best-quality service on the job, especially when compensation is one of the primary ways people are shown to be valued in the workforce.

That’s why the work of the American Conference on Diversity, now celebrating 65 years of valuing diversity, educating leaders, and promoting respect throughout New Jersey, is more relevant than ever because it touches all segments and pockets of society. The work of this great organization extends from the playground to the boardroom. From our youth and educators’ programs to our workplace training and education initiatives, the American Conference on Diversity won’t be satisfied until we’ve reached our ultimate goal: equality for all of us, not just some of us.

Elizabeth Williams-Riley is President and CEO of the American Conference on Diversity, a New Brunswick, N.J.-based organization that’s celebrating 65 years of valuing diversity, educating leaders, and promoting respect throughout the state.

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1 comment for “[OPINION] Civil Rights, Equality Still Relevant: Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act Signed Jan. 29

  1. relevantmatters
    January 29, 2013 at 9:53 am

    The Ledbetter Act has achieved nothing.

    In fact no law yet has closed the gender wage gap — not the 1963 Equal Pay for Equal Work Act, not Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, not the 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act, not affirmative action (which has benefited mostly white women, the group most vocal about the wage gap – http://tinyurl.com/74cooen), not the 1991 amendments to Title VII, not the 1991 Glass Ceiling Commission created by the Civil Rights Act, not the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act, not diversity, not the countless state and local laws and regulations, not the horde of overseers at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and not the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.

    That’s because women’s pay-equity advocates, who always insist one more law is needed, continue to overlook the effects of female AND male behavior:

    Despite the 40-year-old demand for women’s equal pay, millions of wives still choose to have no pay at all. In fact, according to Dr. Scott Haltzman, author of “The Secrets of Happily Married Women,” stay-at-home wives, including the childless who represent an estimated 10 percent, constitute a growing niche. “In the past few years,” he says in a CNN report at http://tinyurl.com/6reowj, “many women who are well educated and trained for career tracks have decided instead to stay at home.” (“Census Bureau data show that 5.6 million mothers stayed home with their children in 2005, about 1.2 million more than did so a decade earlier….” at http://tinyurl.com/qqkaka. If indeed a higher percentage of women is staying at home, perhaps it’s because feminists and the media have told women for years that female workers are paid less than men in the same jobs — so why bother working if they’re going to be penalized and humiliated for being a woman.)

    As full-time mothers or homemakers, stay-at-home wives earn zero. How can they afford to do this while in many cases living in luxury? Answer: Because they’re supported by their husband, an “employer” who pays them to stay at home. (Far more wives are supported by a spouse than are husbands.)

    The implication of this is probably obvious to most 12-year-olds but seems incomprehensible to or is ignored by feminists and the liberal media: If millions of wives are able to accept NO wages, millions of other wives, whose husbands’ incomes vary, are more often able than husbands to:

    -accept low wages
    -refuse overtime and promotions
    -choose jobs based on interest first, wages second — the reverse of what men tend to do
    -take more unpaid days off
    -avoid uncomfortable wage-bargaining (http://tinyurl.com/3a5nlay)
    -work part-time instead of full-time (“In 2011, 22% of male physicians and 44% of female physicians worked less than full time, up from 7% of men and 29% of women from Cejka’s 2005 survey.” http://tinyurl.com/7la747z)

    Any one of these job choices lowers women’s median pay relative to men’s. And when a wife makes one of the choices, her husband often must take up the slack.

    Women are able to make these choices because they are supported — or, if unmarried, anticipate being supported — by a husband who must earn more than if he’d chosen never to marry. (Still, even many men who shun marriage, unlike their female counterparts, feel their self worth is tied to their net worth.) This is how MEN help create the wage gap: as a group they tend more than women to pass up jobs that interest them for ones that pay well.

    See “Will the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act Help Women?”

    Re: “take women in the workplace”

    Women have made far more progress in the world of work than men have in the world of children.

    See “An Explanation of The World of Children/The World of Work” at http://malemattersusa.wordpress.com/2012/03/17/a-male-matter-explanation-of-the-world-of-childrenthe-world-of-work/

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