What's "Wrong" With The Lilly Ledbetter Act?


To listen to conservatives like Sam Dealey, you’d think that the Lilly Ledbetter Act will end capitalism as we know it and make it harder for women’s discrimination suits to be taken seriously.

As if. But reporters have this compulsion to “tell both sides” of the story, even if one side is not so fact-based and full of unrealistic hyperbole in order to “prove” a point. Take Liz Wolgemuth’s recent post entitled “Why Lily [sic] Ledbetter is Controversial” in which she states:

But the merits of the law are actually fairly controversial. After all, President Bush didn’t support it.

Oh, that’s a good one. Bush, he of the wire-tapping-est, civil-rights-trampling-est anti-abortion-iest Administration in recent times that spend so much time thinking about discrimination against women, people of color and the LGBT community, doesn’t like the bill and that makes it controversial? At this point, I think things that Bush didn’t like are actually the least controversial things among most Americans.

Wolgemuth then cites a Wall Street Journal OpEd — not exactly known for being an even-handed editorial page — from earlier this year opposing the bill, which argues that protecting current stockholders and employees is more important than allowing women to enforce their legal rights against their employers for (potentially) decades of illegal behavior. Well, hey, as I’m given to understand, that’s how the legal system works. If you do wrong things, you have to right those wrongs financially (in the civil system) or forfeit your freedom as punishment (the criminal system). You don’t get to say, “Hey, I know I nearly killed a guy 20 years ago but I have a family to support now and I’m totes a good guy these days, so I don’t deserve punishment.”

Oh, if they want hyperbole, I can do hyperbole.

Dealey says:

Say a woman was hired five, 10 or 15 years ago at a discriminatory pay level. She worked just as hard as her male colleagues, but received paltry raises or bonuses. But then her company underwent some sort of restructuring—a change of ownership, a new board, a new supervisor. Since then, the company has treated all employees the same, giving raises and bonuses where merited. The woman is a good worker and now her salary rises by 8- or 10-percent a year, well above many of her male colleagues. The company should be exempt from any possible lawsuit, right?

Um, no, wrong. I mean, let’s put it another way: Say a woman got married to a guy that beat the shit out of her and raped her for 5, 10 or 15 years, putting her in the hospital over and over again. Then, he finds Jesus and changes his way, and stops raping her and beating her and instead treats her with the love and respect she deserved all along, even better than any of the mistresses he took in the midst of his abuse of her. That guy should be exempt from prosecution, right? Right?

Exactly. Just because now she’s being treated equitably doesn’t excuse her husband from years of criminal behavior any more than it should excuse the company from years of criminal behavior. The woman in Dealey’s scenario isn’t earning the same as she would have had she not been discriminated against all along any more than the one in my scenario is better off than if she hadn’t been beaten and raped all along. The rights of women to equity shouldn’t be trumped by the supposed needs of supposed shareholders who might see their stock prices tumble. The stock prices — and the profits of the companies — in companies that pursued patterns of wage discrimination over decades were artificially inflated by that discrimination. You don’t get to keep the money you make selling drugs; you shouldn’t get to keep the profits you make from discrimination. That’s how the legal system is supposed to work, and now it will, at least in part.

Why Lily Ledbetter Is Controversial [US News & World Report]
Ledbetter Law Makes Sex Discrimination Suits Worse [US News & World Report]

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