On January 29, 2009 President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. This event completely nullifies a 2007 United States Supreme Court decision against Lilly Ledbetter on her claim for almost twenty years of wage discrimination.
The Lilly Ledbetter case is about a middle-aged woman deeply wronged by America. Her case demonstrates that Civil Rights is in much worse shape in America than most people understand.
Lilly Ledbetter worked for Goodyear for over nineteen years before retiring. Later she found out that she was receiving about 20% less in pay than her male counterparts over most of her career as a supervisor at Goodyear. An anonymous note caused her to inquire about the matter. Otherwise, she might never have known of the wage discrimination because employee's wages were confidential at Goodyear as they are at many businesses.
The United States Supreme Court ruled that her suit was not timely even though she had no way of knowing about the disparity in pay until long after the 180 days of the first act of discrimination. The legislative change allows the statute to run from each discriminatory paycheck rather than requiring discovery of a secret act of discrimination that began years ago. In other words, the U.S. Supreme Court decision made no sense. Indeed, Justice Ginsburg made the unusual gesture of reading her dissent from the bench that these men had no clue.
What are the lessons? One is that patent discrimination still reigns supreme all over this country. Don't kid yourself about this problem and don't simply yawn and flip to a new channel. It is probably happening to you or somebody you know right now. Another lesson is that the United States Supreme Court is not a quality outfit. This is not just my opinion. Around the world, statistics demonstrate that world courts are disinclined to follow the United States Supreme Court in the legal world now, whereas once they did. Finally, we have a lot of spade work to do right here at home in Oregon in the field of civil rights.
Our Oregon State Bar recently jettisoned a nationally famous minority rights woman of Japanese descent, Stella Manabe. Ms. Manabe had won the 2003 American Bar Association "Spirit of Excellence" Award, for her development of "Opportunities for Law in Oregon" (OLIO). Then in 2005 she received the Deiz award (named after Oregon's first woman black judge) from the Oregon Woman Lawyers Association. In 2007 Stella was named a distinguished graduate from Lewis and Clark Law School. Have we righted the wrong? No. Is this ugly sore still besmirching the reputation of the Oregon State Bar? Yes. We need a Stella Manabe Fair Treatment to Minorities Act right here and right now. Let's see, 2003, 2005, 2007....
Something good is bound to happen to her in 2009! Perhaps, the citizens of Oregon and members of the Oregon State Bar can see to it that this is as good a year for Stella as Lilly has now had. When Lilly's wrong was righted, President Obama welcomed her to the White House last week for the bill signing ceremony.