Obama Signs Equal Pay for Equal Work Bill
The New Legislation Amends the 1964 Civil Rights Act
By CLAIRE SHIPMAN, SUSAN RUCCI, IMAEYEN IBANGA and NITYA VENKATARAMAN
Jan. 28, 2009 —
Calling pay equity not a women's issue but "a family issue," President Obama today signed a new bill seeking to end decades-long pay disparities between men and women.
Joined in the East Room of the White House by the first female Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, first lady Michelle Obama and the 70-year-old tire plant supervisor for whom the bill is named, Obama said it was "fitting that the very first bill I signed -- the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act -- 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 equal-pay bill ends a 2007 U.S. Supreme Court decision saying employees only had 180 days to file pay-discrimination lawsuits and is expected to make it easier for workers to sue for decades-long discrimination.
Ledbetter filed a 1998 suit against a Goodyear Tire Rubber Co.plant in Gadsen, Ala., after learning men working in the same position were making more money. In 2007, the Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 vote that Ledbetter waited too long to sue since she brought the suit near the end of her 19-year career with the company.
"I was initially humiliated, I felt degraded," Ledbetter has said of her feelings about the pay disparity.
The new legislation allows suits to be brought up years later as long as the alleged pay disparity is continuing and isn't limited to gender-based discrimination.
It amends the 1964 Civil Rights Act and also applies to discrimination based on factors such as race, religion, national origin, disability or age.
"In signing this bill today, I intend to send a clear message that making our economy work means making sure it works for everyone," Obama told of approximately 150, including members of Congress and women's and labor groups who have long been advocates of the bill.
Michelle Obama a Strong Supporter
The legislation highlights an issue close to Michelle Obama, who championed equal pay on the campaign trail.
"Right now the average woman is earning 77 cents to every dollar that a man earns, here in the United States, for the same work," she said during a September 2008 campaign speech.
The Census Bureau last year estimated that women still receive only about 78 cents for every dollar that men get for doing equivalent jobs.
That discrepancy equals $210,000 less for women over 35-year full-time work life, according to an August 2008 study from Institute for Women's Policy Research.
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