Why Lily Ledbetter is Controversial

Obama signs his first bill--an act on equal pay.

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Even though Lily Ledbetter couldn't make her case to the Supreme Court, many of us probably believe that people should be able to sue for wage discrimination at a point beyond the 180-day period after their first discriminating paycheck, particularly if, like Ledbetter, we've worked at a place for years (decades!) and don't uncover the pay disparity until retirement.

But the merits of the law are actually fairly controversial. After all, President Bush didn't support it.

A recent WSJ editorial makes the objection clear--arguing that the Ledbetter act will "create a new legal business in digging up ancient workplace grievances." Here's more:

Since these supposed wrongs could be compounded over decades, the potential awards would be huge. Most companies would feel compelled to settle such claims rather than endure the expense and difficulty of defending allegations about long-ago behavior. The recipe here is file a suit, get a payday. And the losers would be current and future employees, whose raises would be smaller as companies allocate more earnings to settle claims that might pop up years after litigating employees had departed.

On the other side, Martha Burk, co-founder of the Center for Advancement of Public Policy, says the act doesn't go far enough, since the real problem was Ledbetter's lack of awareness of what her coworkers made. "The main reason Lilly Ledbetter got shafted was that she didn't know her situation compared to the men," Burk writes in a HuffPost piece. "Employers are under no obligation to report pay statistics, and in most companies you can get fired for talking pay with co-workers."

She shares this interesting detail about New Mexico:

Bill Richardson (Obama's choice for commerce secretary who voluntarily dropped out of consideration) has just signed an executive order in his state that is ground breaking. Not only will the state as an employer have to study and report it's own pay practices when it comes to gender and race, so will private sector companies that want state contracts.

Update: The excellent Opinion writers at USNews.com are in heated Ledbetter debate. See Bonnie Erbe's argument in favor of the law and Sam Dealey's argument against it.


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