Thursday, February 19, 2009

Equal Pay and Fair Pensions

Equal Pay and Fair Pensions

Women have known for years that they often receive less pay than their male counterparts. What has been less obvious is that because of pay discrimination, they also receive lower pensions. A number of changes have occurred in the last few weeks that could help women remedy both problems.

The story starts with a woman named Lily Ledbetter who sued her employer for violation of the equal pay requirement under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. She was a supervisor in a Goodyear plant in Alabama for almost 20 years and discovered at the end of her career at Goodyear that she had been paid substantially less than men working in the same position that she worked. She sued under Title VII and a jury in the lower court found that she had indeed been paid less because of her gender, but in 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court decided to throw the case out because she had not filed her complaint within 180 days of the first discriminatory decision to pay her less. Essentially the court decided that a woman had to sue when the employer gave her a lower raise because of her sex and that the on-going affect of discrimination was not grounds to sue. Such a rule made it very difficult for women to pursue wage discrimination cases.

The first bill President Obama signed into law was the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act which reversed the decision of the Supreme Court. Members of OWL had worked hard to push the passage of this act. The act makes it clear that every time a woman receives a pay check that is lower than a man’s because of a discriminatory decision on the part of the employer, a discriminatory act has occurred and the women may sue under Title VII.

The first application of this law may well be a case currently before the Supreme Court that highlights how employment discrimination affects women not only during their working years but well into retirement as well.

Four women who worked for AT&T took maternity leaves when AT&T didn’t credit maternity leave time toward their pension. AT&T did count other leave time, however. That practice has been outlawed by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 but the company is maintaining that their pension plan should not have to include the maternity leave which will lower the amount of money these women, and thousands like them, will have in retirement. It is just one of many examples of how women end up with lower pensions in retirement than men.

How the Supreme Court decides this case will tell us how much progress we have made with the passage of the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. It was an important step but we know from experience that no single bill will solve the problem of fair pay or adequate retirement income. We must keep working to ensure economic security for all women, young and old.

Ellen A. Bruce, JD

OWL, President Emeritus

1 comment:


It is not 'strange' that women need to fight for equal pay and fair pensions.In a land where "all men are created equal" by the slip of a word we are left out. That is why I feel we should be busy passing the Equal Rights Amendment FIRST and then the other struggles will take care of themselves. Rep Carolyn Maloney of NY is leading this fight again and I hope OWL will lead the way not using its precious influence on the results of the missing amendment!Ellen Chase past pres. Hudson Valley OWL