Looking Back: Obama Signs the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act

As part of the series highlighting President Obama’s achievements, I’ll be looking at the first piece of legislation the President signed: the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. This piece of legislation provides monumental protection for women and families to insure we earn equal pay for equal work.

On January 29, 2009, President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, S 181,  into law. The legislation amended the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which reset the 180 day statute of limitations with each discriminatory paycheck. It was a direct response by Congress to Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co (2007) in which the Supreme Court decided the statute of limitations for presenting an equal-pay lawsuit began at the date the pay was agreed upon, not the date of the most recent paycheck. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg summarized in her dissent:

“Lilly Ledbetter was a supervisor at Goodyear Tire and Rubber’s plant in Gadsden, Alabama, from 1979 until her retirement in 1998. For most of those years, she worked as an area manager, a position largely occupied by men. Initially, Ledbetter’s salary was in line with the salaries of men performing substantially similar work. Over time, however, her pay slipped in comparison to the pay of male area managers with equal or less seniority. By the end of 1997, Ledbetter was the only woman working as an area manager and the pay discrepancy between Ledbetter and her 15 male counterparts was stark: Ledbetter was paid $3,727 per month; the lowest paid male area manager received $4,286 per month, the highest paid, $5,236.”

This was not the first time the Fair Pay Act was introduced. In 2007, it was passed through the House but failed to get the 60 votes required for a cloture in the Senate due to intense GOP opposition. During his 2008 campaign, then Senator Obama strongly supported the Fair Pay Act. When it was reintroduced in the first session of the historic 111th Congress, it passed the Senate and the House. Then, on January 29, 2009, it became the first piece of legislation signed by President Obama.

Upon signing the bill, which he said was in honor of his grandmother, Obama said, “It is fitting that with the very first bill I sign — the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act — we are upholding one of this nation’s first principles: that we are all created equal and each deserve a chance to pursue our own version of happiness.”

The LLFPA is not simply a women’s issue: it is a family issue, it is an economic issue that insures equaility for all Americans:

“Ultimately, equal pay isn’t just an economic issue for millions of Americans and their families, it’s a question of who we are — and whether we’re truly living up to our fundamental ideals,” President Obama said. “Whether we’ll do our part, as generations before us, to ensure those words put on paper some 200 years ago really mean something — to breathe new life into them with a more enlightened understanding that is appropriate for our time.”

The Fair Pay Act was a monumental achievement for President Obama during the first half of his term. Today, women still earn 77 cents to the dollar earned by men. Thank you President Obama for insuring women will be paid the same as men and be able to provide for their families.

Regan Page