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What is the Lilly Ledbetter Act and How Does This Law Affect Me?

Much of the 2012 Presidential Election has been focused on women’s issues. In particular both candidates alluded to the Lilly Ledbetter Act during the second Presidential debate at Hofstra University. But what are the terms and conditions of the Lily Ledbetter Act? And what sort of rights and protections does it give women in the workplace?

The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Barack Obama in January 2009. The Act amends Title VII of Civil Rights Act of 1964 to “clarify that a discriminatory compensation decision or practice that is unlawful under such Acts occurs each time compensation is paid pursuant to the discriminatory compensation decision or other practice.” In other words, any employee shall not be time barred from filing a law suit around unlawful discrimination as long as they file that suit within 180 days of the last paycheck where they believe such discrimination has, and continues, to occur.

This piece of legislation stemmed from the 2007 Supreme Court case, Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. The plaintiff, Lilly Ledbetter, had worked for many years in Alabama as a production supervisor at a Goodyear tire plant and was paid less than her male counterparts who had identical job titles and responsibilities. Ledbetter sued Goodyear when she was about to retire, alleging that the company had based this pay disparity on gender discrimination.

The Supreme Court reviewed this case and ruled in a 5-4 majority decision (written by Justice Samuel Alito) that Ledbetter was time barred from filing a lawsuit under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act because she has not done so within 180 days of first experiencing the effects of the alleged discrimination. In the minority decision, however, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg set forth an interpretation of the law that would require any time limits to file a complaint should be reset upon receipt of each paycheck.

The Supreme Court’s Ledbetter decision was far reaching in its scope and sparked a national controversy since the new restrictions not only affected Title VII claims, but also claims and lawsuits pertaining to the Age Discrimination and Employment Act, the Fair Housing Act, the Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act (Title IX), etc. By requiring such a short timeline to file a complaint, employers were given much more flexibility to argue that most claims were filed too late and thus illegitimate.

Democrats in Congress drafted a bill to amend the Supreme Court’s Ledbetter decision very shortly after the ruling. And the new law, requiring that the 180 day statute of limitations be reset with each paycheck, has been in effect since 2009 but can be retroactively applied back to May 28, 2007.

In summary, the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act is designed to protect workers from employment discrimination practices. Moreover, it enables individuals who believe they have been victims worksite discrimination a greater amount of time to seek justice.

If you believe you have been adversely affected by employment discrimination you should seek help from either a government enforcement agency like the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), or by contacting an attorney who specializes in employment law in order to determine if you have a legitimate legal claim.