Obama Signs Historic Fair Pay Law


'This is a wonderful day,' President Obama announced just prior to signing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, Jan. 29th. '[I]t is fitting that the very first bill that I sign ... that it is upholding one of this nation's founding principles: that we are all created equal, and each deserve a chance to pursue our own version of happiness.'

The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act is a law that amends various federal civil rights statutes to give workers who have experienced pay discrimination better tools to seek redress and win back pay and damages in court. The bill was named after Lilly Ledbetter, a 19-year employee/supervisor at Goodyear Tire. After learning from another employee that she had been the victim of pay discrimination that has cost as much as $200,000 in wages and retirement benefits, Ledbetter sued her former employer. Ledbetter had as much experience and as many positive employee reviews as those male workers, doing the same job, who received higher pay.

A jury agreed that the company had discriminated against her based on gender and awarded her back pay and damages. The company appealed the verdict, and in 2007 the US Supreme Court overturned the jury verdict. Though discrimination had clearly occurred, the conservative majority on the court ruled, the law disallowed a lawsuit filed after six months of the first discriminatory pay check, despite the fact that Ledbetter did not know that her pay was any different from her co-workers for many years afterward.

'Lilly Ledbetter did not set out to be a trailblazer or a household name,' President Obama continued. 'She was just a good hard worker who did her job – and she did it well – for nearly two decades before discovering that for years, she was paid less than her male colleagues for doing the very same work.'

Obama praised Ledbetter for her tenacity and courage in seeking to have her complaint heard and her case brought to a court. 'She could have decided that it wasn't worth the hassle and the harassment that would inevitably come with speaking up for what she deserved,' he added.

Ledbetter's courage will improve the lives of working families across the country, Obama said. 'Equal pay is by no means just a women's issue – it's a family issue. It's about parents who find themselves with less money for tuition and child care; couples who wind up with less to retire on; households where one breadwinner is paid less than she deserves; that's the difference between affording the mortgage –or not; between keeping the heat on, or paying the doctor bills – or not.'

And in tough economic times, Obama stated, 'the last thing [any family] can afford is losing part of each month's paycheck to simple and plain discrimination.'

Obama added that the bill should send a message to employers to review their practices and ensure that they treat each worker fairly and equally.

The president dedicated the signing of the bill to his grandmother who experienced the gender-based glass ceiling but kept on working and struggling to give her family the things they needed. He also dedicated the signing of the bill to his daughters 'and all those who will come after us, because I want them to grow up in a nation that values their contributions, where there are no limits to their dreams and they have opportunities their mothers and grandmothers never could have imagined.'

Closing his remarks by reiterating that the Fair Pay Act is about 'basic fairness,' Obama thanked Lilly Ledbetter for her courage and hard work in making it a reality.