Obama signs Ledbetter fair-pay act

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.

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About the Author

Christina Bellantoni

Christina Bellantoni is a White House correspondent for The Washington Times in Washington, D.C., a post she took after covering the 2008 Democratic presidential campaigns. She has been with The Times since 2003, covering state and Congressional politics before moving to national political beat for the 2008 campaign. Bellantoni, a San Jose native, graduated from UC Berkeley with ...

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