From Susan Estrich of Creators.com:
Lilly Ledbetter was nearing 60 and on the verge of retirement when someone sent her an anonymous letter telling her that for the preceding 19 years, she'd been earning less than her male counterparts at Goodyear Tire and Rubber. On the day she started work as a supervisor in 1979, she was paid the same as men in the same job. But by 1998, when that letter arrived and Lilly consulted a lawyer, she was making $15,000 a year less than a man with the same experience doing the same job.
So she sued.
A federal jury found that over the course of her career, she lost out on upward of a quarter of a million dollars in pay because of discrimination, and the jury awarded her interest and penalties that brought the award to almost $4 million. The judge reduced the award to $360,000. The Supreme Court, by a 5-4 vote, got rid of it entirely.
Lilly's failing, in their mind, was that she should have sued back in 1980, when her pay started falling behind that of her male counterpart. According to the law as read by the Court, she had only 180 days to complain about discriminatory pay or she was stuck with it. By the time she filed suit in 1998, the first 18 years of being shafted didn't count anymore, and the last 180 days — the only time period the five men on the Court who voted against her thought could be counted — was just the residue of the way things had been done all those years, not some new and intentional effort to pay her less. Business as usual. No recovery.
This week, the Senate failed in its effort to overrule that particular decision of the Supreme Court.
At a time when women, no matter what their education, job classification, experience or ability, still earn on average 77 cents for every dollar men earn, Republican presidential candidate John McCain skipped the vote. But he took time to make clear that he opposes the bill because he thinks government has no business telling employers they will be held responsible for underpaying women unless those women complain about it in the first 180 days. By a 56-42 vote (60 votes are required by Senate rules to cut off debate), the Republican minority voted to protect business at the expense of working women.
Too many lawsuits, McCain said.
Too much discrimination, I would say.
There are some who believe Democrats are doing everything they can to hand this election over to the Republican in what should be a Democratic year. But Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama both took time from their campaigns to go back to Washington to vote for Lilly Ledbetter and the millions of women who know they are being shafted at work, but don't have the evidence — at least not within 180 days of the shafting — to prove it. McCain only took the time to say he would have voted against her.
It's the sort of vote women may remember, or be reminded of, when November comes around. Equal pay for equal work doesn't mean a whole lot if you don't have the ability to enforce it. Ultimately, politics and elections often come down to whose side you're on. John McCain made that clear this week. It may yet come back to haunt him. Some of those women he forgot about when he skipped the vote on Lilly Ledbetter may remember that, and not skip their turn to vote in November.