For years, companies have been paying female workers less than their male counterparts for the same work. Two women, Lilly Ledbetter and Betty Dukes, are leading the way in the ongoing battle for equal pay for equal work. Their persistence over the last eight years may help to explain a 14% increase from preceding years in sex or gender discrimination charges filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in 2008.
Lilly Ledbetter filed a complaint with the EEOC in 1999 when she discovered that her male co-workers at Goodyear Tire were being paid substantially more than she was. In May 2007, a Supreme Court majority had ruled that she had no grounds to sue for unfair treatment because of a small technicality in the law; she had failed to file a complaint within 180 days of receiving her first unfair paycheck. Congressional Democrats were outraged at the result and promptly wrote new legislation to close this interpretive loophole. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was signed into law by President Obama in January 2009.
Betty Dukes is still in the midst of an uphill battle for equal pay. After Ms. Dukes complained to her supervisor at Wal-Mart about sex discrimination, she was demoted to cashier and discouraged from applying for managerial positions. In 2000, she and six other women filed the largest class-action sex discrimination suit in American history, Dukes v. Wal-Mart. This case is probably destined to reach the Supreme Court. In the court of public opinion, the women may persevere. The Paycheck Fairness Act, which would substantially strengthen the Equal Pay Act by making class-action suits easier, is now under consideration by Congress.