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The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 is an Act of Congress enacted by the 111th United States Congress and signed into law by President Barack Obama on January 29, 2009.

The bill amends the Civil Rights Act of 1964 stating that the 180-day statute of limitations for filing an equal-pay lawsuit regarding pay discrimination resets with each new discriminatory paycheck. The law was a direct answer to the Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., , a U.S.marker Supreme Courtmarker decision holding that the statute of limitations for presenting an equal-pay lawsuit begins at the date the pay was agreed upon, not at the date of the most recent paycheck, as a lower court had ruled.

A first bill to amend the statutory limitations period and supersede the Ledbetter decision was introduced in the 110th United States Congress but was never enacted, as after having been passed by the House it failed to survive a cloture vote in the Senate due to the opposition of most of the Republican Senators.

During the campaign for the 2008 elections, the Democrats criticized Republicans for defeating the 2007 version of the bill, citing Republican presidential candidate John McCain's opposition. Then-candidate Barack Obama supported the bill.

A new version of the bill was eventually re-introduced in the first session of the 111th United States Congress, obtaining this time the necessary support to pass cloture. The bill was then brought to the attention of the President and became the first act of congress signed by the new President Obama since his assumption of office on January 20.

Court rulings

The antecedents of the case were posed when Lilly Ledbetter, a production supervisor at a Goodyear tire plant in Alabamamarker, filed an equal-pay lawsuit regarding pay discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, six months before her early retirement in 1998. The courts gave opposite verdicts, first supporting the complainant and later opposing; in conclusion the complainant brought the case to the attention of the Supreme Court. The latter ruled in 2007 by a 5-4 majority vote that Ledbetter's complaint was time-barred because the discriminatory decisions relating to pay had been made more than 180 days prior to the date she filed her charge, as explained by Justice Samuel Alito. The minority position explained by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg proposed an interpretation according to which the law runs from the date of any paycheck that contains an amount affected by a prior discriminatory pay decision.

The Ledbetter decision was cited by federal judges in 300 cases before the LLFPA was passed. These cases involved not only Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, but also the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, Fair Housing Act, Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act and Eighth Amendment to the Constitution.

The case had never received much attention before going to the Supreme Court, but the Court's ruling ignited legal groups on the left and Democrats that took action to transform the Ledbetter case into a rallying issue for the left, having activists seen in the figure of the complainant an ideal standard-bearer in their attempt to persuade the public that the Supreme Court was moving too far to the right.

Among the first to criticize the Court's decision was Marcia Greenberger, president of the National Women's Law Center, that saw in the ruling a "setback for women and a setback for civil rights" and called Ginsburg's opinion a "clarion call to the American people that this slim majority of the court is headed in the wrong direction." On the other side, the majority's findings were applauded by the US Chamber of Commerce, that called it a "fair decision" that "eliminates a potential wind-fall against employers by employees trying to dredge up stale pay claims."

First bill

The House Democrats were fast to react, coming out on June 12 against the Court. Claiming lead from Justice Ruth Ginsburg's minority opinion, which invited the Congress to take action by amending the law, the Democrats announced their intention to intervene: House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller said that a bill was to be passed to avoid future court rulings in line with Ledbetter, clearly putting that "a key provision of the legislation will make it clear that discrimination occurs not just when the decision to discriminate is made, but also when someone becomes subject to that discriminatory decision, and when they are affected by that discriminatory decision, including each time they are issued a discriminatory paycheck", as said by Rep. Miller.

Republicans immediately opposed the bill as drafted, with Education and Labor Committee ranking member Howard McKeon raising the issue that business executives would be held liable for actions taken by managers who weren't leading the company anymore: "At the end of the day, such a loophole conceivably could allow a retiring employee to seek damages against a company now led by executives who had nothing to do with the initial act of discrimination".

The issue proved contentious also among lawyers: while the American Bar Association passed a resolution supporting the new bill, others such as Neal Mollen, argued that extending the term limit would put a strain on the chances of an adequate defense for the employers, as to defend themselves one "has to rely on documents and the memory of individuals, and neither of those is permanent. If a disappointed employee can wait for many years before raising a claim of discrimination ... he or she can wait out the employer, that is ensure that the employer effectively unable to offer any meaningful defense to the claim".

Legislative history

The bill ( and ) was defeated in April 2008 by Republicans in the Senate who cited the possibility of frivolous lawsuits in their opposition of the bill and criticized Democrats for refusing to allow compromises.

The bill was re-introduced in the 111th Congress (as and ) in January 2009. It passed in the House of Representatives with 247 votes in support and 171 against. The vote was nearly perfectly split along party lines, with only three Republicans voting in favor (Ed Whitfield of Kentuckymarker, Don Young of Alaskamarker and Chris Smith of New Jerseymarker) and two Democrats voting nay (Travis Childers of Mississippimarker and Parker Griffith of Alabamamarker).The Senate voted 72 to 23 to invoke cloture on S. 181 on January 15, 2009. (The vote to invoke cloture ends debate on a bill, and usually leads to a final vote within a few days.) The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act passed the Senate, 61-36, on January 22, 2009. The votes in favor included every Democratic senator (except Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, who was absent from the vote because of health issues) and a handful of Republican senators.

As president, Obama actively supported the bill. The official White House blog said:
President Obama has long championed this bill and Lilly Ledbetter's cause, and by signing it into law, he will ensure that women like Ms. Ledbetter and other victims of pay discrimination can effectively challenge unequal pay.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer announced that the House would vote on S.181 (the bill passed by the Senate) during the week of January 26, getting the bill to President Obama's desk sooner rather than later. On January 27, the House passed S.181 by a 250-177 margin.

On January 29, Obama signed the bill into law. It was the first act he signed as president, and it fulfilled his campaign pledge to nullify Ledbetter v. Goodyear. However, the fact that he signed it only two days after it was passed by the House brought him under criticism from papers such as the St. Petersburg Times which mentioned his campaign promise to give the public five days of notice to comment on legislation before he signed it. The White House through a spokesman answered that they would be "implementing this policy in full soon", and that currently they were "working through implementation procedures and some initial issues with the congressional calendar".


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