Lilly Ledbetter Act proves ineffective in closing wage gap

by Lindsey Hubbart

Despite the Equal Pay Act of 1963, men and women still do not receive equal wages. According to the National Committee on Pay Equity, women only made 77 percent of what men made in 2011. In 2009, Congress passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in order to help women receive an equal salary. Unfortunately, three years later, the act has proven ineffective.

To give women ample opportunity to receive justice for this form of discrimination, the Lilly Ledbetter Act states that the statute of limitations begins when one discovers the pay difference, rather than when the discrimination actually takes place. Before this law, women would only have 180 days after the discrimination happened to file a lawsuit. Unfortunately, that law prevented Lilly Ledbetter and other women from seeking adequate justice.

This attempt to close the pay gap has not been as successful as lawmakers intended. One negative effect of the law is that employers may stop paying based on individual success, in fear of being sued for discrimination. However, the linkage of pay and performance leads to greater efficiency in the economy, as it gives employees an incentive to work harder. Employees who work more efficiently benefit everyone in the economy, including the company itself and consumers.

The Independent Women’s Forum (IWF) claims that the Lilly Ledbetter Act also comes with a great cost for companies. At a time when our economy is lagging, we cannot afford legislation that will cost businesses a significant amount of money. Rather, we need to encourage job creation. For example, the IWF claims that this act “forces employers to keep extremely detailed employment records” which is “a costly administrative burden.” When companies can keep administrative costs down, they are more likely to hire more people and the cost savings may be handed down to consumers.

Finally, the fact that women can sue their company for an unspecified amount of time after they discover discrimination opens the door to abuse of the law. The IWF states that lawsuits can even be brought by family members after the death of the employee, which means that the court will likely have limited evidence with which it can make a ruling. James Sherk of the Heritage Foundation also claims that “The Ledbetter Act would hand a major victory to trial lawyers seeking big damage payoffs in stale suits that cannot be defended.” This law is supposed to help women, not increase the paychecks of trial lawyers.

Former Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison proposed a viable alternative to the Lilly Ledbetter Act. She believes that the statute of limitations should begin only after the employee discovers any form of pay discrimination. This proposal would still allow women to bring a lawsuit against their employer if necessary, but would minimize any abuse of the law.

I believe in gender equality, which is why I support legislation that effectively decreases the wage gap. The Lilly Ledbetter Act is not the answer. Therefore, I believe that we must begin exploring viable alternatives to prevent discrimination against women.

Contact Lindsey Hubbart at lhubbart15@my.whitworth.edu

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