On January 29, 2009, President Barack Obama signed the first piece of legislation of his Administration, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 (“Act”). This law overturned the Supreme Court’s decision in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., Inc., 550 U.S. 618 (2007), which severely restricted the time period for filing complaints of employment discrimination based on discriminatory compensation. The EEOC is celebrating the Act’s one-year anniversary by inviting Lilly Ledbetter herself to address staff at EEOC Headquarters in Washington, DC, in a talk that is being streamed to the Commission’s 53 field offices.
The Act codifies the EEOC’s longstanding position that each paycheck that contains discriminatory compensation is a separate violation regardless of when the discrimination began. The Ledbetter Act recognizes the "reality of wage discrimination" and restores "bedrock principles of American law." Particularly important for the victims of discrimination, the Act contains an explicit retroactivity provision.
People challenging a wide variety of practices that resulted in discriminatory compensation are benefiting from the Act’s passage. These practices include determining base pay or wages, deciding job classifications, denying career ladder or other noncompetitive promotions, denying tenure, and failing to respond to requests for raises.
Because the Act is retroactive, in the year since the Act took effect the EEOC undertook a comprehensive review of (1) wage discrimination charges that were either pending in its inventory or recently closed, (2) closed inquiries that had not resulted in a charge, and (3) closed cases from its Fair Employment Practices Agency partners. This review affected over 1,100 people who had been denied access to relief due to the Supreme Court’s decision. The EEOC also revised its Compliance Manual section on threshhold issues to provide guidance to both employers and employees on how to determine the timeliness of claims of compensation discrimination.
Compensation discrimination continues to be a problem in the American workplace. In the year since the Act took effect, some 4,800 charges were filed with the EEOC alleging wage discrimination. Approximately 1,900 of these were filed by women alleging sex discrimination in compensation, just as Ms. Ledbetter had done when she first filed her charge of discrimination in July 1998.
For more information, see the Notice Concerning the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.