Interpretation of the Equal Pay Act Clarified

The Senate blocked a bill meant to change the Equal Pay Act. During a session on April 23, 2008, the Republican block of senators voted to turn down the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. The act delineates the Title VII under the Equal Pay Act to clarify the statute of limitations on filing lawsuits for claims of pay discrimination. The bill was composed after the Supreme Court overturned a previous decision based on the wording of Title VII. Title VII of the Equal Pay Act states that employees can only sue within 180 days after the incident of discrimination.

Opinions and court decisions vary on their interpretation of this bill, with most believing that the 180 days apply to each act of discrimination, meaning each instance that an unfair salary is given. The Supreme Court chose to strictly follow the wording of the law and clarified that the 180 days referred to the very first act of discrimination, meaning the first unfair salary that was given. The Ledbetter Fair Pay Act would have changed the wording of Title VII to state that lawsuits can be filed within 180 days from the last instance of prejudice.

All this discussion has risen because of a lawsuit filed by Lisa Ledbetter. Ledbetter was an employee of Goodyear for 19 years, after which she was offered and accepted resignation. The plaintiff was the only female area manager for Goodyear and was apparently unaware that the other male area managers were earning salaries, bonuses and benefits that were not offered to her. Ledbetter was bound by her contract not to discuss her financial compensation with her co-workers. She only learned of the difference in pay after she received information from an unknown source.

After investigation, it appeared that Ledbetter was given a salary that was below the minimum standard of Goodyear for the position of Area Manager. It seems that an infamously sexist Goodyear superior who originally hired Ledbetter and worked out the terms of her contract made the decision. Those who turned down the bill stand behind the original Title VII in their belief that 6 months is enough to detect and prove unequal pay. Senators who voted against the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act stated that extending the time limit for filing of law suits would give way to unnecessary cases and be a burden to big companies and the legislative system. Prior to the Senate session, President George W.

Bush had declared that he would veto the bill. When Ledbetter filed the case in the lower court, a jury found that Goodyear was guilty of pay discrimination and awarded the plaintiff with back pay and damages. Goodyear then appealed and then higher court overturned the previous decision.

The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Goodyear in a 5-4 vote.

Barbara Ross is a writer for Find a Job and the author of How to Write a Resume and How to Interview.

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