The president called the occasion of signing the Lilly
Ledbetter Fair Pay Act a "wonderful day," and declared that ending
pay disparities between men and woman an issue not just for women, but for all
"Lilly Ledbetter did not set out to be a trailblazer or
a household name," he said. "She was just a good hard worker who did
her job -- and she did it well -- for nearly two decades before discovering
that for years, she was paid less than her male colleagues for doing the very
With Ledbetter standing by his side, the president said she
lost more than $200,000 in salary, and even more in pension and Social Security
benefits losses that she "still feels today." He then signed the
measure that effectively nullifies a Supreme Court decision on the issue and
makes it easier for workers to sue for discrimination by allowing employees to
bring a lawsuit for up to six months after they receive any paycheck that they
claim is discriminatory.
"Making our economy work means making sure it works for
everyone," Mr. Obama said. "That there are no second class citizens
in our workplaces, and that it's not just unfair and illegal -- but bad for
business -- to pay someone less because of their gender, age, race, ethnicity,
religion or disability."
Ledbetter said she didn't become aware of the large
discrepancy in her pay until she received an anonymous note near the end of her
19-year career at a Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. plant in Gadsden, Ala. She
filed an EEOC complaint, and later a lawsuit, over the pay gap and won early
court battles with Goodyear over the issue.
But in a later
appeal, the Supreme Court held in a 5-4 decision that she waited too long to
bring the action to court.
Pay equity was a sensitive issue during the presidential
election campaign last year, especially among labor unions and women voters. On
average, women in the United States are paid 23 percent less than men, while
minority women receive even less.
"In signing this bill today, I intend to send a clear
message -- that making our economy work means making sure it works for
everyone, that there are no second class citizens in our workplaces," said
the president, who is in his second week in office.
During the Bush administration, the Supreme Court reversed
what critics described as decades of legal precedent by declaring that
discrimination claims must be filed within 180 days of the first offense.
The court rejected the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity
Commission's contention that each new discriminatory paycheck triggers a new
180-day statute of limitations.
The law signed by Mr. Obama amended the 1964 Civil Rights
Act to put the old Equal Employment Opportunity Commission standard into law,
and covers pay discrimination based on gender, race, national origin, religion,
age and disabilities.
Some Republicans and business leaders have expressed concern
the measure could trigger an explosion of lawsuits based on old claims,
discourage employers from hiring women and undermine efforts to stem the
At a reception after the signing ceremony, first lady
Michelle Obama praised Ledbetter, whom she met during the presidential
campaign, and praised her "commitment, her dedication, her focus."
"She knew unfairness when she saw it and was willing to
do something about it because it was the right thing to do, plain and
simple," the first lady said, according to a White House pool report.
Ledbetter became a regular feature in the president's
campaign, addressing the Democratic National Convention in Denver last year and
traveling to Washington aboard his train for the inauguration ceremonies.
Ledbetter won't profit financially from the signing of the
law, but voiced pride in carrying her case all the way to the White House.
"Goodyear will never have to pay me what it cheated me
out of," she said Thursday, according to the New York Times. "In
fact, I will never see a cent. But with the president's signature today I have
an even richer reward."