Equal Pay Today celebrated the 15th anniversary of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act on January 29, 2024, alongside federal government officials, advocates across the country, and the iconic fair pay champion herself, Lilly Ledbetter.
Equal Pay Today led several events for the anniversary, lifting up policy solutions for ongoing wage disparities. The anniversary activities successfully culminated in a major federal policy victory from the White House on pay equity: a final rule prohibiting federal agencies from considering a job candidate’s salary history when setting pay for new federal employees (Read on to learn why this win is so important.)
Lilly Ledbetter served as a manager at the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. plant in Gadsden, Alabama, for more than 19 years. After she was slipped an anonymous note, she learned that she had been paid significantly less than three male colleagues over the course of her career. Lilly filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunities Commission.
In 2007, her lawsuit ended with the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Ledbetter v. Goodyear, which overturned her original jury award of more than $3 million. Ignoring the egregious facts in the case, five justices ruled against Lilly, saying employees had to file a complaint within six months of an employer’s first decision to discriminate, whether the employee knew about the discrimination or not. In Lilly’s case, the discrimination had been going on for years before she was made aware, so she could not meet the Court’s unrealistic time constraint.
In dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote that the ruling made no sense in the real world. Such an absurd decision needed a Congressional response. With the support of advocates nationwide and champions in Congress, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act – the first law signed by President Obama – was enacted. This law restored the prior long-standing law, which has always been clear that workers can challenge every discriminatory paycheck.
The law was such an important victory for workers and gave employees who were experiencing ongoing pay discrimination their day in court. However, the law did not give women new tools to combat the wage gap itself. So Equal Pay Today, Equal Rights Advocates, our partner nationwide, and Lilly continue fighting for equal pay, until the gender wage gap is closed for good.
Major Equal Pay Victory
On January 29’s anniversary, we were pleased to see that the Biden Administration heeded our call, announcing a major advocacy victory at a White House event featuring Lilly Ledbetter. The Administration released its final rule prohibiting federal agencies from considering a candidate’s salary history as a factor in setting pay for new federal civilian employees. Equal Pay Today submitted comments in support of this rule and has been long advocating for such transparency in wages.
This is an important step forward for women and workers of color. If a worker’s prior wages have been tainted by discrimination, and their new employer bases the worker’s new pay on those prior wages, it carries the discrimination forward, allowing unfair pay to follow the worker from job to job. The White House also announced a public comment period on an important similar rule banning the use of salary history for federal contractors. When finalized, this rule would be critical, as many private employers also have federal contracts; meaning millions more employees of private sector companies who hold contracts with the federal government would be protected.
We are thrilled that our collective advocacy for several years has paid off, in one of the most significant federal pay equity advances in a decade. It was such a fitting tribute for Ms. Ledbetter, and we will continue the fight for the future of pay equity to carry on that legacy.
15 Years Later
Equal Pay Today helped organize several events, celebrating Ms. Ledbetter on the 15th anniversary of her namesake bill and discussing the work that still needs to be done. In case you missed it, here are just some of the events and announcements:
- Equal Pay Today hosted a webinar – Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act at 15 and the Future of Pay Equity – moderated by EPT Director Deborah J. Vagins, and joined by Lilly Ledbetter; the Chair and Vice Chair of the EEOC; ERA Executive Director Noreen Farrell, and national advocates. One viewer said:
“This webinar made me cry and touched my heart, since I thought my workplace trauma would never be heard and I would never have an opportunity to connect with the right agencies/organizations, who truly understand and protect women’s right[s], especially as someone who is disabled and an underrepresented minority.”
- We also released a press release with national leaders, including Connecticut Rep. Rosa DeLauro.
- Lilly and our own Deborah J. Vagins, Director of Equal Pay Today, co-authored an op-ed in Ms. Magazine about this important anniversary and the policy changes we need.
- ERA’s Jessica Ramey Stender spoke on a webinar in the Bay Area cohosted by the EEOC, OFCCP, U.S. DOL Women’s Bureau, and Equal Rights Advocates entitled Advancing Fair Pay: 15 Years After the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.
- As announced in Equal Pay Today’s 2023-2024 Policy Agenda, we continue to fight for state and federal fair pay legislation, like the federal Paycheck Fairness Act, which would provide new tools for workers to address the causes and impact of pay discrimination. Equal Pay Today has also urged the Administration to take actions advancing fair pay for federal workers and federal contractors, which would provide progress for millions of these employees.