[JURIST] US President Barack Obama [official website] signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 [S.181 materials] into law Thursday, extending the deadline for employees to sue their employers for unequal pay discrimination. The law's "clarification" of equal pay protections effectively overturns the 2007 decision of the US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. [opinion, PDF; JURIST report], which held that "a pay-setting decision is a discrete act that occurs at a particular point in time" and that the statutory period for filing a discrimination claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) [official website] begins when that discrete act occurs. The new law alters Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 [text] to clarify that the six month statute of limitations controlling racial, gender, or national origin employment discrimination suits is applicable to each instance of a discriminatory practice, including the receipt of each paycheck, not only to the initial discriminatory act. Obama said [press release] that the new law
send[s] a clear message: that making our economy work means making sure it works for everybody; that there are no second-class citizens in our workplaces; and that it's not just unfair and illegal, it's bad for business to pay somebody less because of their gender or their age or their race or their ethnicity, religion or disability; and that justice isn't about some abstract legal theory, or footnote in a casebook.
The bill is the first [Washington Post report] Obama signed into law after taking office [JURIST report] last week.
The initial lawsuit was brought by Lilly Ledbetter, a 19-year Goodyear employee, who alleged that she received less pay than male counterparts because of gender discrimination. The Supreme Court upheld the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit's reversal [opinion, PDF] of a district court decision awarding Ledbetter $360,000 in damages.