Obama is Right to Sign the Ledbetter Law on Sex Discrimination

Sorry Sam, you're wrong.

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By Bonnie Erbe, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

My colleague Sam Dealey posts against the Lilly Ledbetter Law, which President Obama is due to sign today, as the first bill signing of his administration. The law makes it easier for people who believe they've been discriminated against in terms of pay to sue employers.

Sam: I'm against frivolous litigation, too. But methinks you stretch the possibilities posed by the Ledbetter Law to the point where they don't just break, they get nuked. In your post of yesterday you wrote:

"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?

Maybe not. That's because a wily trial lawyer could well sell the argument that, no matter how generous the woman's recent raises, they were all applied to what was fundamentally a discriminatory salary baseline."

Sam, litigation doesn't work that way and a woman in the situation you describe would be nothing short of insane to bring a lawsuit. Your hypothetical ignores the fact that discrimination lawsuits are prohibitively expensive, even when those nasty trial lawyers take them on contingency (plaintiffs still pay costs which can easily run into five figures.) Litigation also typically takes years and years to produce results. So why would a woman who was now making good money at a company that was treating her fairly, sue and destroy her job, possibly her income and most definitely her reputation? It just doesn't make economic sense.

Will there be more lawsuits due to the Lilly Ledbetter law? That remains to be seen. Will there be more successful plaintiffs whose claims otherwise would have failed under the Supreme Court Ledbetter ruling? You betcha!

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