- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 29, 2009

President Obama on Thursday signed into law a measure allowing for broader legal claims against unfair pay, saying it would “help others get the justice” that Lilly Ledbetter was denied.

The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act is a response to a May 2007 Supreme Court ruling that made it tougher for employees to file pay discrimination claims.

It is the first bill Mr. Obama has signed into law, and effectively overturns the court’s ruling.

Lilly Ledbetter, a 19-year area manager for Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. in Mobile, Ala., learned she was earning far less than male colleagues but was not able to file a claim because she had missed the 180-day time window because of learning about the disparity so long after the fact.

The law amends the 1964 Civil Rights Act to allow for claims within 180 days of each check considered discriminatory.

Ms. Ledbetter lost more than $200,000 in wages and benefits over her career, the president said.

“It is fitting that with the very first bill I sign — the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act — that it is upholding one of this nations first principles: that we are all created equal and each deserve a chance to pursue our own version of happiness,” Mr. Obama said during a bill signing ceremony before a few hundred people in the White House’s East Room.

Joining him were Ms. Ledbetter, first lady Michelle Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., and congressional leaders.

Mr. Obama signed the bill using several presidential pens, giving each to the congressional co-sponsors onstage. But he saved one for the law’s namesake: “This one is for Lilly,” he said, a line that earned a standing ovation.

“While this bill bears her name, Lilly knows this story isnt just about her,” Mr. Obama said. “Its the story of women across this country still earning just 78 cents for every dollar men earn — women of color even less — which means that today, in the year 2009, countless women are still losing thousands of dollars in salary, income and retirement savings over the course of a lifetime.”

The measure passed the House 250-177 and the Senate 61-36.

Ms. Ledbetter was a frequent presence on the campaign trail — first as a supporter of Mrs. Clinton and then as an advocate for Mr. Obama.

Nan Aron, who runs Alliance for Justice in Washington and made a documentary about Ms. Ledbetter, said the ruling demonstrates that several justices are out of the mainstream.

“It exemplifies how harmful judges can be,” she said, noting her group opposed Justice Samuel Alito’s nomination.

“It’s a historic occasion for working women all over the country to obtain equal rights in the workplace,” she said.

Mr. Obama thanked the legal advocates and civil rights leaders in the room for their work.

“In signing this bill today, I intend to send a clear message: that making our economy work means making sure it works for everyone,” he said. “That there are no second-class citizens in our workplaces, and that its not just unfair and illegal — but bad for business — to pay someone less because of their gender, age, race, ethnicity, religion or disability. And that justice isnt about some abstract legal theory, or footnote in a casebook — its about how our laws affect the daily realities of peoples lives: their ability to make a living and care for their families and achieve their goals.”

He also paid tribute to his grandmother and two daughters “and all those who will come after us, because I want them to grow up in a nation that values their contributions, where there are no limits to their dreams, and they have opportunities their mothers and grandmothers never could have imagined.”

The president said the measure is “only the beginning.”

“I know that if we stay focused, as Lilly did — and keep standing for whats right, as Lilly did — we will close that pay gap and ensure that our daughters have the same rights, the same chances and the same freedom to pursue their dreams as our sons,” he said.

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