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Riding to the rescue of Lilly Ledbetter

PRESIDENT Obama, seeking re-election, casts himself as the savior of oppressed women. He has said the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, "is a big step toward making sure every worker . . . receives equal pay for equal work."

Some women eat it up.

But attorney Victoria Toensing, writing in the Wall Street Journal, said the Lilly Ledbetter act was not a big step at all, but rather a "teensy" one.

Those rights are covered both in the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, she said. The Democrats' handiwork in 2009 "merely changed how the statute of limitations is calculated."

But what is the meaning of "merely"?

Some contend the law was actually more about rewarding plaintiffs attorneys who contributed to Democrats' campaigns than it was about oppressed women.

Ledbetter began working for Goodyear in 1979 and retired in 1998. She then sued under the Equal Pay Act and Title VII.

Claims made under the Equal Pay Act are to be filed within two or three years, depending on the circumstances. Title VII requires that a complaint be filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission within 180 days after an intentional discriminatory act.    

A magistrate judge said both of Ledbetter's claims should be dismissed because the company was able to demonstrate that the pay disparity resulted from her  performance, not her gender.

Ledbetter appealed. A federal district court in Alabama reinstated the Title VII case. A jury awarded her damages and back pay.

The company appealed. The 11th Circuit reversed the lower court, holding that the Title VII claim did not conform to the 180-day requirement.

The Ledbetter forces appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which upheld the time limit.

In 2009, Democrats in Congress, big recipients of trial lawyers' campaign donations, heroically amended Title VII to allow suits to be brought within 180 days of any "discriminatory compensation decision - "in other words, any too-low paycheck," Toensing wrote.

James R. Copeland was more blunt, writing in 2010 that the act "gutted statutes of limitation in employment lawsuits," which he said served the trial lawyers cause: "maintaining the lawsuit industry and expanding legal liability rules that lead to more lawsuits."

So were Democrats riding to the rescue of oppressed women or rewarding fat-cat lawyers?

Cynicism is appropriate.


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