|Page 2 of 2 <|
Exhibit A in Painting Court as Too Far Right
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission agreed with this theory, known as "paycheck accrual," and supported her in the lower courts. But the Bush administration argued against it in the Supreme Court, and the five conservative members agreed.
In the first major decision he authored, Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. wrote that the plain words of the statute and the court's past cases required a rejection of Ledbetter's discrimination argument. "Current effects alone cannot breathe life into prior, uncharged discrimination," Alito wrote.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg blasted the majority's "parsimonious" reading of the law in her dissent, part of which she read from the bench. She accused the court of ignoring the real world, where a worker would not know within 180 days whether the raise she received was smaller than that of fellow workers and thus would have no way to challenge any suspected discrimination.
Ledbetter cuts through the legalities in the videos: "It wasn't right for me to do the same job, day in and day out, and not get paid according to the way the men were paid. It was not fair. . . . Had it been even close, I might not have gone to court, but it wasn't. So I had no choice."
Ralph Neas, president emeritus of People for the American Way, contends that Ledbetter's case holds the potential of capturing the public's interest in a way that higher-profile cases involving abortion and race do not.
Ledbetter shows "how the court's decisions affect real-life situations," Neas said. "It's important to put a human face on it."
Michael Eastman, executive director of labor policy for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, acknowledges that the issue is a tough one for his group -- "everyone is opposed to unequal pay for equal work."
But as the Senate takes up the legislation, he makes the case that it is unfair to allow discrimination complaints long after the alleged actions took place.
For instance, one of Ledbetter's complaints is that a supervisor propositioned her and that her refusal led to a poor evaluation. But the man died before Ledbetter brought her suit.
"She is a compelling witness and makes a good case," Eastman said. "But what would her supervisor have said?" And Eastman said the bill goes beyond reversing the court decision in several ways, including giving spouses the right to sue.
The House voted 225 to 199 to approve the bill, with six Democrats crossing party lines to oppose it and two Republicans supporting it. In the Senate, two Republicans have signed on as co-sponsors.
The White House has said it strongly opposes the bill and has threatened a veto.
Whatever, Ledbetter said. "It will be in the history books even if it's not passed."