While many people have heard of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, the way in which it has been covered in the media has probably left most with the wrong idea about what the law actually does. From the coverage I’ve seen, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act has simultaneously been portrayed as doing both more and less than it actually does. To clarify what the act does, I will bust some of the myths and then explain in simple terms exactly what this law does.
Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act Myths
These are the most popular myths I’ve seen regarding the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act:
- Myth: The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 makes it unlawful to pay female employees less than equivalent male employees.
Reality: It was already unlawful to pay female employees less than equivalent male employees under both Title VII and the Equal Pay Act, which have been in effect for several decades. The Ledbetter Act does extend the time in which a female employee can make an unequal pay claim under Title VII, so to that extent, it strengthens existing law prohibiting gender discrimination.
- Myth: The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act only applies to women.
Reality: The Ledbetter Act applies equally to all classes of employees protected by Title VII, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act. So, the Ledbetter Act is not a “women-only” law.
- Myth: If you’re not in favor of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, you’re part of the “war on women”.
Reality: Because the Ledbetter Act is not a “women only” law, it would be more fair to say that those opposed to the act favor employers over employees, not men over women. In fact, the Ledbetter Act helps other protected classes of employees (the disabled, minorities, etc.) more than it helps women, as women already had a longer time to bring a claim for unequal pay (2 years) under the Equal Pay Act than these other classes.
What the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act Actually Does
Prior to the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, employees wishing to bring a claim for unequal pay under Title VII, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act or the Americans with Disabilities Act had to file an EEOC complaint within either 180 days or 300 days (the two deadlines are explained in this article) of the date that the employer created the unequal pay situation. This can be incredibly unfair, as employees may not even discover that their peers are being paid more than them within that short time frame.
The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act changed the above-mentioned laws so that an employee bringing an unequal pay claim could do so within 180 or 300 days of receiving the last paycheck which reflected the pay disparity. So, every paycheck an employee receives which reflects unequal pay restarts the time limit for filing an EEOC complaint, regardless of when the employer made the initial decision creating the unequal pay situation.
So, while the Ledbetter Act did not create any new substantive rights for employees with respect to unequal pay, it amended several existing unequal pay laws to allow employees significantly more time to discover the pay disparity and file a claim.