It’s Law Week 2013 and part of this year’s theme is Equality in the Workplace. Do you recall Lily Ledbetter, whose case led to the fair pay act?

“In 1979 Lilly Ledbetter was one of the first women hired for a management position at the Goodyear tire factory in Alabama. Lilly had a pristine track record at Goodyear and had received honors for her management skills.  After working at Goodyear for 19 years, she received an anonymous note revealing that she was earning thousands less than male employees in the same position. Lilly filed a sex discrimination case against Goodyear and won. A jury awarded her over $3 million in damages that was capped at $360,000 due to laws that limit the amount of money that can be awarded in cases like this one.  Goodyear appealed, and the verdict was overturned. Over the next eight years Lilly continued to fight until her case made it to the United States Supreme Court. In 2007, the Supreme Court decided that the 180 days that employees have to file discrimination claims as stated in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act starts from the first unequal paycheck they receive. This meant that Lilly had filed her claim 19 years too late and lost the case. In a dissenting opinion read from the bench, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg stated: “Once again, the ball is in Congress’ court. As in 1991, the Legislature may act to correct this Court’s parsimonious reading of Title VII.” She believed that the Supreme Court was interpreting the law in a way that Congress never intended and therefore it was up to Congress to fix it. In 1991, Congress changed the law by amending the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to strengthen federal civil rights laws.

“Losing her case in the Supreme Court meant that Lilly would never receive money to compensate for her years of being unfairly paid. Lilly testified in front of Congress asking them to ensure that others not suffer the discrimination that she faced in the future. Her case became a media focal point as she spoke on the radio and campaigned as a spokesperson for fairness in the workplace.  Soon after the Supreme Court made its decision Congress tried to pass a bill that would change the Court’s interpretation of the law.  The White House administration feared that such a bill would encourage lawsuits and argued that employees could delay filing their claims in the hope of reaping bigger rewards.  Congress’s efforts were stalled throughout the remainder of the 2008.  In January 2009 Congress passed a bill stating that employees have 180 days to file a discrimination claim beginning from each discriminatory paycheck that they receive.  The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act became the first piece of legislation that President Barack Obama signed into law.”  ABA Division for Public Education. Used with permission.