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A Step Towards Fair Pay With a Stroke of a Pen

Deborah J. Vagins,
ACLU Washington Legislative Office
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January 29, 2009

(Originally posted on DailyKos.)

Just hours ago, I shared an incredible moment with Lilly Ledbetter — who stood in the White House and watched President Obama sign a piece of legislation bearing her name. One can only imagine what that feels like.

But, we know this much: The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act struck a powerful blow for justice not just for her, but for anyone who has been victimized by wage discrimination.

Today the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act became law and overturned the Supreme Court decision in the Ledbetter v. Goodyear case, in which employees lost their right to their day in court for ongoing pay discrimination.

And it became the first major bill that President Obama signed.

President Obama speaks at the signing of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.

With the stoke of a pen — actually several pens, President Obama made today a good day for all employees, who — regardless of gender, race, national origin, age or disability — are illegally receiving smaller paychecks than their colleagues.

Lilly Ledbetter (left) looks on as First Lady Michelle Obama speaks at the signing of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.

Before signing the bill, President Obama made clear that this bill is not just about Lilly Ledbetter or his two daughters or the countless women who are still facing unlawful pay disparities; it is also about the families who have to make ends meet with less because of wage discrimination:

Equal pay is by no means just a women’s issue — it’s a family issue. It’s about parents who find themselves with less money for tuition and child care; couples who wind up with less to retire on; households where one breadwinner is paid less than she deserves; that’s the difference between affording the mortgage — or not; between keeping the heat on, or paying the doctor bills — or not. And in this economy, when so many folks are already working harder for less and struggling to get by, the last thing they can afford is losing part of each month’s paycheck to simple and plain discrimination.

But even more, by signing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act into law, with the stroke of his pen President Obama sent a clear message about our values as Americans. Today, we all took a step closer to ending workplace discrimination. Today, our commitment to equality and equal access to the American dream gleamed a little brighter. Today, we all got a little closer to building an America we can be proud of, once again.

Lilly Ledbetter (left) with ACLU Legislative Counsel Deborah Vagins.

But there is more to be done. The next stop for the fair pay fight: the Paycheck Fairness Act. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act restored rights lost in the civil rights rollback of recent years. The next step is to amend the Equal Pay Act — to close, for once and for all, the pay gap between men and women and allow employees to finally bring home every dollar they rightfully earn.