February 7, 2009

Will Women Ever Experience Pay Equality?

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According to the most recent employment data, estimates find that Caucasian women earn approximately 73% of what Caucasian men earn and the gap is even greater for African American women (link). Furthermore, educated women with upper level jobs have the most significant wage gap when compared to men. In analyzing data such as this, it becomes evident that no logical explanation exists for explaining the pay inequality of our country, other than the fact that discrimination lives on in America. However, President Obama took action in the Lilly Ledbetter pay discrimination case, which represents a step in the right direction for diminishing the tradition of pay inequity.

Last week, President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act into law. The act stems from a Supreme Court decision that gave employers an advantage in disguising pay discrimination by declaring that complaints of pay inequity must be filed within 180 days of the initial action. In most cases, disparity in payment can go undetected for months or more, as seen in Lilly Ledbetter’s case. Prior to the Supreme Court’s decision, there was no designated statute of limitations for pay discrimination cases. However, in a lower court decision involving Lilly Ledbetter’s case, it had been decided that the complaint must be filed within 180 days of the first realization of a suspected discrepancy in pay.

Lilly Ledbetter worked for Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company for more than ten years as a manager. Throughout this time, she received appreciably less pay compared to that of her male co-workers. More specifically, Lilly Ledbetter earned around $3,000 per month while her counterparts earned at least $1,000 more per month. Consequently, she brought forth a civil suit after first realizing that she was experiencing unlawful discrimination. The suit was grounded by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as well as the Equal Pay Act of 1963 in that both prohibited pay discrimination based on gender. When the court ruled in favor of Goodyear, Lilly Ledbetter applied for a writ of certiorari to have her case heard in federal Supreme Court. To her surprise, the case was granted review.

The Supreme Court was not deciding whether the pay disparity was unconstitutional. Instead, the court was deciding if the statute of limitations was violated under the Constitution and applicable employment laws. The Supreme Court affirmed the decision found by the Court of Appeals. While the trial court ruled in favor of Ledbetter, the following courts did not and consequently, the decision made pay discrimination based on gender legal in practice because most cases of pay inequity will not be noticed until the statute of limitations has expired.

With the passage of the Lilly Ledbetter Act, women can experience the equality they deserve. While women have achieved monumental success in the fight for equality, the battle is one that will likely never end, as inequality remains a constant force in contemporary society. President Obama’s swift action in the case of Lilly Ledbetter is an example of the legislation needed to end gender intolerance. Will gender prejudice ever disappear completely, allowing women to hold equal status in our society, or has inequality become entrenched in our culture?

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