Will Paycheck Fairness be the First Bill Obama Signs Into Law?

After a hard fought primary with a female opponent, could the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act be the first bill — and a very symbolic one — that Barack Obama signs into law as president?

That is what House leaders are hoping. In a conference call this morning, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Rep. Rosa DeLauro, and Rep. George Miller, chairman of the Committee on Education and Labor, told journalists they would be introducing the Ledbetter bill and the Paycheck Fairness Act tomorrow. The Ledbetter legislation would restore the Equal Pay Act of 1963 to the strength it had prior to the Supreme Court's 2007 decision to deny back pay to Ledbetter. A manager at a Goodyear tire plant in Alabama, Ledbetter was paid between 15 and 40 percent less than her male colleagues. The 5-justice majority ruled that her complaint fell outside the statute of limitations, arguing that the discriminatory act had occurred only once — when her salary was first set — and that a complaint had to be filed within 90 days of that first paycheck.

This summer, 14 Republican members of the House joined Democrats to reverse that decision, declaring that each paycheck should be understood as new discrimination, and that employers should be banned from penalizing workers for sharing salary information with one another.

In addition to the Ledbetter bill, the Paycheck Fairness Act would go further, expanding damages available to victims of pay discrimination and providing funding for further study of the problem.

The Democratic leadership is portraying these bills not only as civil rights milestones, but as antidotes to recession economics. Last month, unemployment among women reached a 14 year high, and American women are currently losing jobs at a faster rate than American men. "Pay discrimination is costing women across this country millions and millions and millions of dollars," Miller said. "It's not just the lost pay…it also diminishes their Social Security, their pension benefits, and makes their health care more expensive."

The obstacle to quick delivery of the two bills to Obama could be the Senate, which has not yet set a firm date to consider the issue. Miller said he hoped the Senate would move early next week, especially considering the president-elect's commitment, made during the campaign, to address the pay gap between men and women.

cross-posted at TAPPED

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