National Commentary

Congressman Moran’s News Commentary: 4th Anniversary of Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act

This week, we recognized the fourth anniversary of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act – the very first law that President Obama signed upon entering office in 2009. The law was inspired by Lilly Ledbetter, a manager at the Gadsden Alabama Goodyear Tire and Rubber Plant who worked the night shift for 19 years and discovered upon her retirement that she was paid up to $1,500 a month – nearly 20 percent – less than men working in the same job. Lilly took her fight all the way to the Supreme Court — and lost — because she hadn’t filed a complaint within 180 days of receiving her first discriminatory paycheck. Lilly had no way of knowing that she was being underpaid all those years.

By signing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act into law, the President has guaranteed the right of women and other workers to challenge unfair pay. The law now states that a worker can file a complaint within 180 days of any discriminatory paycheck, so that someone facing the same situation Lilly faced would have recourse to justice.

This is important not only for women, but for everyone. So many households rely on both parents working, and protecting women against discrimination protects the whole family. The Ledbetter Law also protects a family’s assets, because lower pay early in life can mean lower Social Security benefits and reduced retirement security.

The Lilly Ledbetter law follows a long tradition of legislative milestones for families. Next week marks the 20th anniversary of the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Before its passage in 1993, parents were not guaranteed time off if they had a baby or if they had a seriously ill child or parent. FMLA permits women to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave without fear of losing their job or health insurance to care for members of their family. This landmark legislation has been used over 100 million times since its enactment two decades ago.

Unfortunately, while FMLA and the Lilly Ledbetter Act have helped make the workplace more fair, inequality remains. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, women earn just 77 cents for every dollar paid to full-time working men – this adds up to $10,784 in lost income each year. To help fix this inequity, I have cosponsored the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would update the Equal Pay Act to provide more effective remedies to women who are not being paid equal wages for doing equal work.

Specifically, the Paycheck Fairness Act puts gender-based discrimination sanctions on equal footing with other forms of wage discrimination – such as race, disability or age – by allowing women to sue for compensatory and punitive damages. Though the Paycheck Fairness Act passed the House of Representatives in 2009, it was been blocked by Republican leadership in the 112th Congress.

Women make enormous contributions to our workforce and should be recognized appropriately. As a member of Congress, I will keep working for passage of laws like the Paycheck Fairness Act that will improve the quality of life for all Americans.