Don’t We Already Have Enough Laws that Protect Women Against Discrimination?

An Amendment is Permanent.

Laws do exist to protect women’s rights, but laws can be changed or overturned out of existence. And many existing laws don’t go far enough.

Take the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. Despite the name it neither guarantees equal pay, nor protects against practices that consistently promote men over women. What it does is make it easier for victims of wage discrimination to file a lawsuit by giving them more time to sue.

The story behind the bill offers sobering evidence of a persistent gender gap in pay. A production supervisor at an Alabama Goodyear Tire and Rubber factory, Lilly Ledbetter began her 19-year career in a male-dominated field at a salary comparable to the men. Over time, though, her pay fell behind her male counterparts, including those with less seniority. When she retired in 2007, Ledbetter was earning $1500 less the highest paid male manager – and $560 less than the lowest paid man.

The lawsuit she filed against Goodyear under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 eventually reached the Supreme Court. They ruled against her saying that by law she should have filed her suit within 180 days of the date that Goodyear first paid her less than her peers. Ledbetter had worked for Goodyear nearly 20 years.

As hundreds of courts around the country cited the decision as reason to reject wage disparity lawsuits based on sex (and race, age and disability for that matter) Congress swiftly worked to amend Title VII, giving an employee 180 days to sue from the time she received her most recent paycheck that reflected unfair pay practices.

Although Lilly Ledbetter never saw any of the money Goodyear denied her during her long career, the new law bears her name. On January 29, 2009 The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act became the first bill President Barack Obama signed into law.

Has it made a difference in the dozen or so cases that would otherwise have been barred from proceeding? Absolutely. But the right to file a lawsuit for discrimination is worlds away from banning discrimination. If, in the end, the United States Supreme Court can interpret the Constitution as not outlawing unequal pay for women — a belief recently stated publically by Justice Antonin Scalia – the Ledbetter Act does not give women the protection and legal support they need to get justice.

Let the Equal Right Amendment finally provide women with their rightful place in our society – fully equal under the law. If the ERA is ratified, Scalia and all Supreme Court justices will be bound by it and have no choice but to rule in favor of equality.