Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Women's de-lib

The Supreme Court made an amazingly short-sighted decision today.

The justices, voting 5-4, rejected a $360,000 award to Lilly Ledbetter, an Alabama Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. worker who said that almost two decades of discrimination meant her salary was 15 to 40 percent lower than what her male counterparts earned.

The 1964 Civil Rights Act typically gives workers 180 days from the time of the alleged discrimination to file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

According to Ruth Bader Ginsburg:

Lilly Ledbetter was a supervisor at Goodyear Tire and Rubber’s plant in Gadsden, Alabama, from 1979 until her retirement in 1998. For most of those years, she worked as an area manager, a position largely occupied by men. Initially, Ledbetter’s salary was in line with the salaries of men performing substantially similar work. Over time, however, her pay slipped in comparison to the pay of male area managers with equal or less seniority. By the end of 1997, Ledbetter was the only woman working as an area manager and the pay discrepancy between Ledbetter and her 15 male counterparts was stark: Ledbetter was paid $3,727 per month; the lowest paid male area manager received $4,286 per month, the highest paid, $5,236.

$550 is quite a disparity, and I don't buy into the argument that a "poor performance evaluation" caused her to be paid less than the lowest-earning male counterpart, especially one with less seniority. But, of course, that's not the provocation for the five justices (including the wretched Samuel Alito, who replaced Sandra Day O'Connor) making that decision. No, they stuck to the "letter" of the Civil Rights Act, saying that since the 180-day deadline had passed, Ms. Ledbetter's statute of limitations had expired and thus she was not eligible for any remuneration.

How could she have discovered the disparity within the time frame that she was still an employee? When was the last time any employee ever went around to his or her fellow employees and compared their salaries? As far as I know, that's still considered a very rude and over-reaching question. And I know of no set procedure, elaborated by any federal or state government, in place to assist workers in investigating incommensurate wages. You face your evaluation and you accept what you get, or you can leave. To me, that posits the final frontier for discriminatory practices, precisely because there's no oversight in that area and no recourse for any potentially wronged employee.

As some have noted, apparently Congress can change the language of the statute to close up that loophole. If Congress can't stop this war, they at least have it within themselves to eradicate legal wiggle room for corporate miscreants.

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