50 for 50: Five Decades of the Most Important Discrimination Law Developments

Number 13: Equal Pay Gets A Boost In The Obama Administration

The Equal Pay Act, which mandates equal pay between the sexes for equal work, actually became law before Title VII, in 1963.   While EPA claims often accompanied Title VII sex discrimination claims, there were some significant limitations in the law.One of those limitations was highlighted by Lilly Ledbetter, a supervisor at a Goodyear plant in Gasden, Alabama.  Ledbetter worked at a Goodyear plant for almost two decades as one of only a few females in a supervisory role.  She was repeatedly denied pay raises, although her male counterparts were not.  Near the end of her employment, she figured this out and brought suit — ultimately getting a $3.3 million verdict.

Goodyear appealed, claiming that the legacy of pay discrimination was time-barred and that Ledbetter could only challenge pay decisions made within 180 days of her EEOC filing.  Ultimately, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed with Goodyear in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., Inc., 550 U.S. 618 (2007), finding in a 5-4 decision that the 180 day statute of limitations applied to claims of pay discrimination.

During the 2008 presidential campaign pay equity was a major issue and the first bill signed by the new President, Barack Obama, was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 — a law which effectively reversed the Supreme Court’s decision.  Under the Act, the clock for filing pay discrimination claims starts when compensation is received, and restarts each time an employee receives a discriminatory paycheck.  As long as workers file their claims within 180 days of receiving a discriminatory paycheck, their claims are valid.  It also limits the amounts employers owe as back-pay.  Back-pay awards are, however, limited to two years before an employee files a pay discrimination claim under Title VII.

The Obama Administration remains committed to making pay equity a priority.  On April 8, President Obama signed an executive order that addresses the issue of unequal pay among federal contractors.  Although disparity still exists, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act gives hope that one day there truly will be equal pay for all.

- Euphemia Thomnopulos

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