Lilly Ledbetter: Time to end the wage gap for women
• Jan 29, 2016
USA Today By: Lilly Ledbetter
The first bill President Obama signed into law his first year in office was, to my great pride, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. During his final year in office, it is my hope that we can witness a new spate of progress on equal pay for women.
The act that bears my name was a step forward for women, families, and the bedrock American values of fairness and equality. Yet on its seven-year anniversary, we still have a gender gap on wages.State legislators and advocates from around the country are launching a “week of action” to draw attention to that gap and how it can be closed.
When I learned that I had been paid significantly less than my male counterparts at the Goodyear plant in Gadsen, Ala., I filed a federal civil rights lawsuit. Yet in its 2007 Ledbetter v. Goodyear ruling, the Supreme Court ruled against me because I filed my challenge long after the 180-day statute of limitations had ended. Because of the way the law was written, it didn’t matter that I was unaware of the wage discrimination during that time window.
Two years later, my namesake law restored basic fairness and protections against pay discrimination by clarifying that the wronged employee has 180 days to challenge any paycheck that reflects unequal pay for equal work – not just the first one. This was a major win for women and, I hoped, a precursor of additional progress towards closing the wage gap.
Unfortunately, women still make just 79 cents for every dollar paid to their male counterparts, while African-American women make only 60 cents for every dollar white men make and Latina women make only 55 cents. Today, two of every three American women are the sole or equal breadwinners in their families. Yet the workplace and many public policies still haven’t caught up with today’s America. It’s time that finally changed.
To root out pay discrimination, Congress should pass the long-overdue Paycheck Fairness Act, updating and strengthening our equal pay laws. In the meantime, however, state legislatures present some of the greatest opportunities to advance the cause of equal pay.
This week, lawmakers in more than 20 states are introducing and highlighting proposals that could help close the wage gap. While equal pay laws are on the books in 46 states and the District of Columbia, in almost every state there is more work to do to ensure that pay discrimination is relegated to the past.