The very first piece of legislation Barack Obama signed into law as President of the United States was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. The law extended the statute of limitations for to an individual to file a lawsuit against employers based on unlawfull wage discrimination.
This is relevant now because April 20, which is Equal Pay day, symbolizes how far into 2010 women must work to earn what men earned in 2009. This day reminds us of the pay inequalities that affected Lily Ledbetter and still affect women everywhere.
Lily Ledbetter worked for Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company for nearly two decades. Despite her dedication to the company, she never made as much money as the lowest paid male who did the same job.
She sued for discrimination and her case eventually made its way to the Supreme Court, only to have the Court rule that Lily Ledbetter had waited too long to file her complaint. President Obama recognized this as a travesty and signed into law the Lily Ledbetter Act.
President Obama is to be commended for making this important act his first bill to sign into law, but this is only the beginning. The Michigan legislature should further expand on existing anti-discrimination laws to put an end to the wage inequality that not only exists in Michigan but everywhere in this country. Even with the Lily Ledbetter Act and Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, which bans discrimination in Michigan, women everywhere are paid significantly less than men.
This reality hurts the women who are paid less and their families, many of whom rely on two incomes to make ends meet. President Obama made it easier for employees to challenge their employers for equal pay but we still have a lot of work to do before sex discrimination in wages and salary is eradicated.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau approximately 84 percent of custodial parents are mothers, and only 49.8 percent work full time. That means they are cheated and their families are suffering because these women do not earn the full wage that their male counterparts earn.
And in Michigan things are even worse. Around the country women are paid 78 cents to every dollar a man makes but in Michigan that number is only 71 cents. This makes Michigan 45th in the nation for wage gap and disparity between men and women.
With so many families struggling in Michigan, this pay disparity could mean the difference between a family keeping or losing their house.
And as time goes on the situation is getting worse. The numbers for new college grads also show disproportionate wages between men and women. According to American Association of University Women, women are paid 80 percent of their male counterparts’ wages one year after graduating college.
And so even though we have the Lily Ledbetter Act, the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act and other anti-discrimination laws there is still much more that needs to be done, especially in Michigan.
Michigan can succeed where it has failed before and pass legislation that will help put an end to wage discrimination. The women who work just as hard and get paid less deserve it and so do their families.
By Shelli Weisberg, ACLU of Michigan legislative director