Monday, January 30, 2012

The Lilly Ledbetter Act and The Wal-Mart Discrimination Case

When Doris Dukes sued Wal-Mart over unfair wages last year, and lost, something did not seem quite right with the Supreme Court's decision in the case. We all know, or should know, that American women do not have an Equal Rights Amendment. It was passed by Congress in 1973, but never ratified by the Senate. And it has largely been ignored ever since, even by women of both parties who were in a position to do something about it. I'm thinking about both Condi Rice and Hillary Clinton, who, during their respective terms as Secretary of State, travelled the world over talking about Human Rights in every country they visited. Women's Rights were also big on both of their foreign agendas. But never once have I ever heard an American woman, in a position of authority, tackle this seemingly simple issue; Equal pay for equal work.

To his credit, President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Act into law in January 2009. But, much to the discredit of all those involved in writing that law, they never addressed the employers right to enforce a policy which prohibits an employee from disclosing to another employee, how much they earn for the same job. When Lilly Ledbetter sued Goodyear Tire and Rubber in 2007 this was the very issue at the heart of the matter. The Courts decision essentially told her that she and her fellow female employees had no right to compensation simply because they had learned too late about the discrimination, in other words, it was okay for Goodyear to have not made full disclosure to them about their terms of employment. That was a travesty of justice, as is the Wal-Mart case decision, in which the plaintiffs amounted to more than all of the female members of our Armed Forces, who do receive equal pay by law. Where is the consistency here?

I cannot help but wonder how the Court arrived at their logic in either case. In the Lilly Ledbetter decision it is akin to telling the victim of a crime that they have no civil recourse now, based on the fact that they didn't realize the unfairness with which they were treated at the time. It flies in the face of logic, especially at the present time, when compensation is being awarded to victims of the governments Eugenics Program, in which people were sterilized by court order. Those orders were both legally and morally wrong, and compensation, such as it is, is the correct remedy. What is the difference in the legal principle involved? I fail to see it.

These two episodes have now set the stage for corporations, such as Wal-Mart, to continue to dance about, and skirt the real problem, for years to come. In this election year, all women should be concerned about this inequity. Sadly, the majority seem to be unaware of the entire issue.

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