What Is The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act?


It’s not fair when women are paid less for doing the same work that men do. If this happened to you, the law is on your side. You have the legal right to receive equal pay for equal work. You can sue for back pay if you were paid less because of your sex.

What Is the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act?

The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act changes the time that you can sue for pay discrimination. Most laws have a statute of limitations that imposes a deadline on when you can file a lawsuit. Before 2009, if you wanted to sue for pay discrimination, the deadline for suing was tied to when your employer first decided to discriminate against you.

The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 changed that deadline, making it easier to challenge unequal pay. Now, if you receive a paycheck that is less than it should be because of sex discrimination, the clock that sets the time to file a lawsuit gets reset.

Before the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act

Before 2009, it was harder to win a discriminatory pay lawsuit than it is now. Back then, you had to file a lawsuit within 180 days after the discriminatory decisions that affected your pay were made.

For many women, that was impossible. They didn’t know right away that they were making less than the men in their company. How could they? Employers typically kept salaries secret. If a company was discriminating against some of its workers, it would usually try to hide it. Also, changes in pay could be gradual. A woman might not think it was worth taking the risk of rocking the boat. In time, those small changes could add up to big amounts. Many years could pass before a woman discovered that her paycheck was less than it should have been.

That’s exactly what happened to Lilly Ledbetter, a supervisor at a Goodyear factory in Gadsen, Alabama. She didn’t find out until almost the end of her career that she had been discriminated against for many years. She sued her employer, but the Supreme Court said she had filed her lawsuit too late.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote a famous dissent, and two years later, Congress passed a new law. Named after Lilly Ledbetter, this law changed the deadline so that women would be able to sue within 180 days of any paycheck where they were illegally underpaid.

The Anonymous Note Sent to Lilly Ledbetter

Lilly Ledbetter worked as a supervisor in a Goodyear tire factory where it was very unusual for a woman to be a supervisor. Though she suspected she was being paid less than her male counterparts, she never had any proof until she had been on the job for 19 years and was almost ready to retire. At that time, she received an anonymous note in her company mailbox. The note said she was being paid much less than even the lowest-paid male supervisors in the factory — as much as 40 percent less.

Lilly Ledbetter’s Legal Fight

After discovering she was getting unequal pay, Lilly Ledbetter filed a complaint with the EEOC. She then sued Goodyear in court under Title VII, an important federal law that prohibits several types of discrimination, including sex discrimination. In the trial court, Ledbetter won her case. The jury found that she had been intentionally discriminated against and awarded her back pay — plus $3.3 million for punitive and compensatory damages.

However, Goodyear appealed the case to the 11th Circuit. The company argued that Lilly Ledbetter had missed the deadline to sue. Lawsuits brought under Title VII, Goodyear argued, must be filed within 180 days of the time of the discriminatory decision. Since that happened years ago, it was now too late.

The 11th Circuit appeals court agreed with Goodyear and overturned the trial court’s ruling. But Lilly Ledbetter persevered, bringing her case all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court in what became the landmark case of Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., Inc.

The Supreme Court’s Decision in Ledbetter v. Goodyear

The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, agreed with the 11th Circuit. Lilly Ledbetter lost the case.

But the case is now most famous for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s dissent. Justice Ginsburg wrote that the Court’s majority did not understand or care about the extent of sex discrimination in the workplace and that the deadline count should start from the date of any paycheck that was affected by discrimination. She called on Congress to “correct the error” of the Court by passing a law to make things right.

The Lilly Ledbetter Act Became Law

Some members of Congress responded to Justice Ginsburg’s call to action. They introduced a bill that would change the law to allow people in Lilly Ledbetter’s situation the chance to sue. At first, the bill was defeated in the Senate. But by 2009, it passed through Congress and was signed by then-President Obama.

What Does the Lilly Ledbetter Act Mean for Me?

If you are a woman who believes she received less pay because of her gender than a man who was doing the same work, you may be able to sue even if the discrimination started a long time ago. The same is true if you are a man who believes he received less pay because of his gender. While this is less likely to happen than the other way around, if it does, you have the same right to sue that women do.

Our Experienced Employment Law Team Can Help

Here at Raynes & Lawn, our experienced employment discrimination trial lawyers are eager to get justice for our clients. If you suspect that you are being paid less than men in your company who are doing the same work, we would be glad to talk to you. Fill out our contact form, or call us at (800) 535-1797, and we will set up a free, no-obligation consultation to discuss what happened and talk to you about what you can do next.

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