Obama Signs Ledbetter Act

Making good on an important campaign promise, President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act today. The law overturns a Supreme Court decision that precluded victims of gender discrimination in pay from obtaining relief if they didn't know of the discriminatory pay differential within 180 days of the time their pay was set.

The McCain-Palin ticket, echoing the Republican Party as a whole and business lobbyists, insisted that the legislation would encourage frivolous litigation -- defined, in Republican-speak, as any litigation brought by an employee against an employer. It is to the president's credit that he made this legislation one of the first priorities of his administration.

Said President Obama:

It is fitting that with the very first bill I sign - the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration 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....

Because while this bill bears her name, Lilly knows this story isn't just about her. It's the story of women across this country still earning just 78 cents for every dollar men earn - women of color even less - which means that today, in the year 2009, countless women are still losing thousands of dollars in salary, income and retirement savings over the course of a lifetime.

But 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 or child care; couples who wind up with less to retire on; households where, when 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's bills - or not. And in this economy, when so many folks are already working harder for less and struggling to get by, the last thing they can afford is losing part of each month's paycheck to simple discrimination.

So in signing this bill today, I intend to send a clear message: That making our economy work means making sure it works for everyone. That there are no second class citizens in our workplaces, and that it's not just unfair and illegal - but bad for business - to pay someone less because of their gender, age, race, ethnicity, religion or disability. And that justice isn't about some abstract legal theory, or footnote in a casebook - it's about how our laws affect the daily realities of people's lives: their ability to make a living and care for their families and achieve their goals. ...

And this is only the beginning. I know that if we stay focused, as Lilly did - and keep standing for what's right, as Lilly did - we will close that pay gap and ensure that our daughters have the same rights, the same chances, and the same freedom to pursue their dreams as our sons.

Gail Collins has a good column on "the feisty working women who went to court to demand their rights and the frequently underpaid lawyers who championed them."

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    Clarification (5.00 / 1) (#1)
    by gyrfalcon on Thu Jan 29, 2009 at 10:32:06 AM EST
    I'm no constitutional scholar, God knows, but I believe it is wrong and very misleading to say this bill "overturns" the Supreme Court decision.  What it does is change the law on which the Supreme Court decision is based.  Very different thing.  Nobody can "overturn" a SC decision, although the SC itself can revisit precedent and interpret it differently somewhere down the road.

    If my understanding of the Constitution and the separation of powers is faulty, I welcome correction.

    Technically true. (5.00 / 1) (#2)
    by TChris on Thu Jan 29, 2009 at 10:38:19 AM EST
    I am using the word "overturn" colloquially.  Congress cannot change Supreme Court precedent, but it can change the law in a way that has the effect of overturning the precedent (i.e., it is no longer true that claimants are barred from relief if they don't make a claim within 180 days of the discriminatory establishment of pay, so the precedent is effectively nullified). For that reason, I do not agree that my use of the word "overturn" is misleading, but I appreciate your clarification.

    Hm (none / 0) (#5)
    by Steve M on Thu Jan 29, 2009 at 10:52:43 AM EST
    I think Chris' choice of words is fair, in the sense that Congress is basically saying "no, you misinterpreted our statute, so now we're going to pass a clarification."  One of the reasons this bill passed relatively quickly is that the Democrats didn't consider it as a creation of new rights, but simply an affirmation of pre-existing rights that the Supreme Court had written out of existence by means of a cribbed interpretation.  But at the end of the day it's all just semantics.

    Jeeze, TChris! (5.00 / 2) (#3)
    by Edger on Thu Jan 29, 2009 at 10:40:27 AM EST
    My first glance at your title, I saw "Obama Signs Bedwetter Act", and I thought great! He's outlawed the GOP and made it a felony to be wingnut!

    Hey, it's early, you know? ;-)

    We'll Have To Lobby For That One (5.00 / 2) (#28)
    by squeaky on Thu Jan 29, 2009 at 08:41:58 PM EST
    I guess we could (5.00 / 1) (#32)
    by Edger on Fri Jan 30, 2009 at 05:56:17 PM EST
    maybe start a petition, and see if we get any support for the idea? ;-)

    I find it (5.00 / 2) (#9)
    by JThomas on Thu Jan 29, 2009 at 12:32:28 PM EST
    interesting that when Obama does something that would be considered a positive act for equality the response here is so tepid.

    As Rosa Brooks wrote, in 8 days Obama has made very positive moves on the war on terror,war on women,war on Islam and war on the environment and yet all we see on this site is how he is a total loser and a bum.

    And of course I will be called names or a Bot for pointing this out..fine. Be unhappy for the next 8 years like the last 8 years..if you must.
    Hillary Clinton is on board with Obama while many of her supporters continue to take the Rush Limbaugh approach of cheering for Obama to fail. She would not approve.

    I was wondering about that myself. (5.00 / 5) (#11)
    by TChris on Thu Jan 29, 2009 at 12:56:10 PM EST
    The predictable response will be:  "Well, we expect him to do good things so we see no need to praise him when he does."  Some of our readers seem to feel a duty to criticize Obama whenever they think it's warranted without feeling a corresponding need to praise him when he gets something right. That's their right, of course, but I lament the ongoing absence of balance in the comments.

    IMO (5.00 / 2) (#16)
    by starsandstripes on Thu Jan 29, 2009 at 01:36:23 PM EST
    Signing the Ledbetter Act is what we expect from a democratic president. Praising him for signing it is like praising someone for doing their job - it's not that he went above and beyond his call of duty (and no one is asking him to).

    When Obama does get criticised, it's when he has failed as what the criticizer perceives his job to be as democratic president.

    Think about your job - are we supposed to praise you everytime you come in on time because we criticise you for coming in late?


    Praising a good job can lead to more good (5.00 / 1) (#18)
    by samtaylor2 on Thu Jan 29, 2009 at 02:12:06 PM EST
    Jobs.  Showing representatives that you are happy with their choices can lead to more good things happening in the future.  It is a mistake to think that criticism is the only thing that can lead to change.  Making positive noise is also effective, and might be more effective, as it shows there is a large group of like minded positive people.  

    One example of this (none / 0) (#19)
    by CST on Thu Jan 29, 2009 at 02:15:04 PM EST
    Gone wrong is the Iraq war.  Too much positive noise for a bad cause.  But proof that positive noise works too.

    I agree (none / 0) (#22)
    by starsandstripes on Thu Jan 29, 2009 at 02:39:39 PM EST
    Positive noise is good to signal that something is in line with the general public view point. But, again IMO, there is a difference between "We approve of the president" and praising the president for doing what is expected. You don't praise someone for doing what is expected of them, or praise becomes meaningless.

    Of course it works differently with young children where praise is used as an incentive to teach certain behaviour, and when that behaviour is learned, praise dies away. If you say the president is like a young child that needs to be taught proper behaviour, I'd reply that I don't expect my democratic president to have to be taught what good democratic principles are by being praised for such acts.

    I will praise the President if he does something positive for same-sex marriage because I recognize the political gamble there, or even for making a strong stance for abortion and birth control, because I know the uproar those acts would cause.


    After 8 years of Bush (5.00 / 3) (#20)
    by TChris on Thu Jan 29, 2009 at 02:29:24 PM EST
    I think it's important to praise (and encourage) a president who actually does his job.

    I would like to think (none / 0) (#23)
    by starsandstripes on Thu Jan 29, 2009 at 02:46:59 PM EST
    that the people chose a president that didn't need to be praised just for doing his job. Wasn't Obama supposed to be the new man in Washington who was going to change how it worked?

    It irks me that people thing that simply doing the job that you're paid to do is laudable. The man chose to run for president on the democratic platform. I don't see why he needs to be lauded everytime he does something that fits into his job description.

    As I said above, I will praise the man when he actually expends political capital to push for ideals that are contentious.


    I, for one, am very happy (5.00 / 1) (#24)
    by caseyOR on Thu Jan 29, 2009 at 04:12:44 PM EST
    Obama and Congress did the right thing here and did it quickly. Promises were made, and now we are seeing those promises kept.

    i am made even happier by the fact that the promises were for things I want, as opposed to the Bush promises, which I deplored.

    More of this, please.


    How is Obama ... (5.00 / 3) (#26)
    by TChris on Thu Jan 29, 2009 at 06:44:29 PM EST
    supposed to know that the public approves of his actions if we don't tell him of our approval?  If I feel entitled to give the presidnet a thumbs down when he deserves it, it's only fair to give him a thumbs up when he does his job well. Just as I don't feel I should point out flaws in an employee's work without praising their accomplishments.

    You don't think that (5.00 / 1) (#29)
    by Cream City on Thu Jan 29, 2009 at 09:50:02 PM EST
    the Obama operation stopped polling on election day?  Axelrove knows exactly what the public reaction is.  And then the President knows.

    without praising their accomplishments (none / 0) (#31)
    by starsandstripes on Fri Jan 30, 2009 at 03:53:36 PM EST
    I guess doing your job like its supposed to be done is an accomplishment that should be lauded in your book.

    Understandable after the last eight years, I guess. But take that away, and he's doing his job, period.

    Reversing the Global Gag Rule - that I will praise him for. Not vetoing a bill that is in line with democratic principles - no.


    Wow (none / 0) (#12)
    by squeaky on Thu Jan 29, 2009 at 01:20:47 PM EST
    "Well, we expect him to do good things so we see no need to praise him when he does."
    You are being extremely generous with your assumption, imo.

    I make (none / 0) (#13)
    by TChris on Thu Jan 29, 2009 at 01:28:11 PM EST
    that assumption because that has been the response I've seen on other occasions when I've noted the lack of balance in the comments.

    And as you can see (5.00 / 4) (#21)
    by TChris on Thu Jan 29, 2009 at 02:31:02 PM EST
    in comment 16, my prediction in comment 11 quickly came true.

    OK (none / 0) (#17)
    by squeaky on Thu Jan 29, 2009 at 01:41:18 PM EST
    Apart from BTD and a very few others most of the stingy commenters you refer to appear be either GOP or a fringe of Hillary supporters who live to say 'I told you so'...  

    At this point I see little difference between the two groups. Perhaps that will change.


    My response would be (none / 0) (#15)
    by CoralGables on Thu Jan 29, 2009 at 01:33:50 PM EST
    you may be giving too much credit with the following...

    "Well, we expect him to do good things so we see no need to praise him when he does."  

    and not enough emphasis on your following and probably far more accurate thought...

    Some of our readers seem to feel a duty to criticize Obama

    Um (none / 0) (#33)
    by cotton candy on Fri Jan 30, 2009 at 07:59:20 PM EST
    I lament the ongoing absence of balance in the comments.

    When you have certain people deleting comments for no apparent reason in that the comments aren't heaping praise, there could be a reason why you see a lack of balance in the comments section...


    I don't know (none / 0) (#34)
    by TChris on Sat Jan 31, 2009 at 11:33:33 PM EST
    to which 'certain people' you refer, but I rarely delete comments, and only if they are gratuitously insulting, off topic, or violate some other site rule.

    Well (none / 0) (#35)
    by cotton candy on Sun Feb 01, 2009 at 11:46:59 AM EST
    then you aren't the "certain people' that I refer to.

    You expected a veto?! (5.00 / 1) (#30)
    by Cream City on Thu Jan 29, 2009 at 09:55:21 PM EST
    Of course, he signed it.  He had indicated that he would, or this Congress would not have passed it and sent it to him.  So with all the snafus on other issues in the last couple of days, let's give credit for the Dem Congress and Dem President acting in concert.  That's good to see.  

    The real credit, of course, goes to its chief sponsor in Congress -- that was the positive act for equality.  Thank you, Barbara Mikulski.


    TChris... (5.00 / 1) (#27)
    by MileHi Hawkeye on Thu Jan 29, 2009 at 08:38:05 PM EST
    ...thank you for this post.  It is a refreshing change of pace from the usual fare around here these days!

    So... (2.00 / 1) (#7)
    by jarober on Thu Jan 29, 2009 at 12:05:33 PM EST
    This is another unintended consequence waiting to happen.  Every American corporation now needs to budget for the possibility that things done by people no longer employed (possibly even dead) - many, many years ago - could come back to cost them tons of money.

    You might say: "great, so and so finally gets justice" - but things will be different for the people who get laid off from the companies in question.

    If instead, you wanted to say "that's the law from here forward", that would be fair.  

    Heh (5.00 / 4) (#8)
    by CST on Thu Jan 29, 2009 at 12:10:34 PM EST
    Last I checked, discrimination was already against the law.

    The law does not change anything except the supreme court interpretation of an old law.  You still have to sue within 180 days of a paycheck, except instead of it being your first paycheck, it's the most recent one.  That's not many many years ago, that's 6 months ago.  Which is how the law was meant to be in the first place.

    So no, dead people aren't gonna sue.  You've been listening to too much Rush Limbaugh.


    No need to worry. (5.00 / 3) (#10)
    by TChris on Thu Jan 29, 2009 at 12:48:32 PM EST
    The law requires proof of an intent to discriminate.  Proof of intent is inconsistent with "unintended consequences" of decisions made years earlier. Of course, if years earlier someone made an intentional decision to discriminate and the discrimination is ongoing, the business might be liable, but it should be.

    Businesses can easily protect themselves by reviewing their pay structure and assuring that men and women with equal seniority and qualifications doing the same kind of work are paid equally.

    Saying that discrimination laws shouldn't be enforced because the financial consequences of rectifying discrimination might lead to job losses is essentially saying there should never be a remedy for discrimination.  Our nation abandoned that notion about four decades ago.  And of course the same argument could be made against enforcing any law that protects workers, including OSHA regulations and child labor laws.


    Really? (none / 0) (#14)
    by Steve M on Thu Jan 29, 2009 at 01:30:14 PM EST
    I cannot imagine a single corporation that would set aside reserves - at the cost of actually laying off employees, no less - to account for the costs of hypothetical discrimination litigation that has not been asserted nor threatened.

    Heck, most companies in my experience are reluctant to set aside reserves even for litigation that is actually pending.  If there is even one person in America who will be laid off because their employer said "gosh, I guess we need to set up a rainy-day fund in case someone brings a 20-year-old discrimination claim," I would be completely shocked.


    Good stuff... (none / 0) (#4)
    by kdog on Thu Jan 29, 2009 at 10:52:35 AM EST
    we're only gonna get bones outta this admin., and this is a nice bone.

    A stimulus for justice...may we see more.

    Only if O also restores EEOC (5.00 / 2) (#6)
    by Cream City on Thu Jan 29, 2009 at 11:13:20 AM EST
    to its previous budgetary and staffing level.  It is where a lot of women (and other) workers go with these complaints, and it has been so slashed and burned again under Bush that many EEOC offices have been closed, making it harder for workers to reach them, and also with the impact that the EEOC can go forward with very few cases.

    More jobs for labor lawyers -- restore the EEOC.


    It was nice to see Hiillary (none / 0) (#25)
    by slr51 on Thu Jan 29, 2009 at 06:40:02 PM EST
    there for the bill signing.

    Kudos to Obama for inviting her.