With 70 year-old Lilly Ledbetter at his side, President Barack Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 into law today. The controversial new discrimination law reverses a U.S. Supreme Court precedent that made it more difficult for employees to file wage discrimination lawsuits and, by extension, other types of discrimination lawsuits as well.
The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 extends the statue of limitations for filing a federal wage discrimination charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), based on the outcome of the U.S. Supreme Court case Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., Inc.
Lilly Ledbetter, the plaintiff in the case and the Act’s namesake, worked as a plant supervisor for the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company for years. After retiring in 1998, she discovered that Goodyear had paid her male colleagues more money than her throughout most of her career.
Ledbetter then filed a federal wage discrimination lawsuit against Goodyear in a district court, under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In her lawsuit, Ledbetter alleged that her supervisors had discriminatorily given her poor evaluations because of her sex. She further alleged that, as a result, her pay was lower than it should have been had her supervisors evaluated her fairly.
The district court ruled in favor of Ledbetter and awarded her back pay and damages. But, Goodyear appealed the case, which made it up to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Supreme Court overturned the lower court’s ruling in favor of Goodyear, because Ledbetter had not filed a discrimination charge with the EEOC before the 180-day statue of limitations had expired.
At the time of the Supreme Court’s Ledbetter ruling, the statue of limitations required an employee to file a federal discrimination charge with the EEOC within 180 days of the first incident of wage discrimination, such as the first time an employer issued a discriminatory paycheck to the employee.
Under all EEOC-enforced federal employment discrimination laws except for the Equal Pay Act, an employee (or his or her representative, such as a lawyer) must first file a discrimination charge with the EEOC (or a state equivalent) before filing a discrimination lawsuit in court.
The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 reverses the Supreme Court’s ruling by changing the statue of limitations to 180 days after each incident of wage discrimination, such as each time an employer issues a discriminatory paycheck to an employee.
To accomplish the matter, the new Act amends Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
The changes to those federal employment discrimination laws make it more clear that wage discrimination is unlawful on the basis of race, color, religion, disability, national origin, sex or age, and occurs each time that an employer pays wages, benefits or other compensation that perpetuates wage discrimination against an employee.
The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 and amendments made by the Act to the discrimination laws mentioned above, are retroactive back to May 28, 2007 and apply to all claims of wage discrimination under those laws. Consult a lawyer for legal advice regarding a wage discrimination lawsuit in light of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.