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Lilly Ledbetter's Double Play

The Democratic National Convention started yesterday, and already I've grown tired of the "where else but in America" mantra -- as in "where else but in American can the son of a single mom emerge as the Democratic candidate for president?"  or "Where else but in America can a girl raised on the Southside of Chicago get an Ivy League education?"  Still, when I learned that Lilly Ledbetter, a retired Goodyear worker and petitioner in Ledbetter v. Goodyear will address the convention tonight, I could only ask, "Where else but in America does an ordinary person have the chance to appear before both the Supreme Court and a national party convention?" -- an opportunity that not even lawyers as accomplished as Barack Obama or his wife have enjoyed. 

As you may recall, in a 5-4 decision back in 2007, the Supreme Court ruled that Ledbetter's claim against her employer for paying her less than her male counterparts because of her gender was time barred because her present lower pay arose out of salary decisions made years earlier, well  outside of the 180-day statute of limitations for discriminatory employment practices under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Justice Ginsburg dissented, and urged Congress to take action to correct the Court's "cramped" reading of Title VII's statutory deadlines. The Paycheck Fairness Act has since been introduced, but as yet has not been passed.

So what makes Ledbetter relevant enough to the Democrats' agenda to warrant her as a speaker? Carter Wood at Point of Law and Dan Schwartz, guest posting at Overlawyered, both believe that Ledbetter will make the case for the importance of equal pay, which at a minimum would appeal to the female base that supported Hillary Clinton. However, Schwartz and Wood point out that there are already equal pay laws that would have conferred the relief that Ledbetter sought; the new proposals would merely expand statutory deadlines and ultimately lead to more litigation. 

But others, like Kitty Kolbert of People for the American Way, believe that Ledbetter's speech sends a message that "The Supreme Court is on the ballot." That's also an odd theory, since right now, Congress hasn't taken any action to reverse the Supreme Court's decision and thus, is as much to blame for the impact of the ruling (at least prospectively) on the Court.

So ultimately, I must confess that I don't really understand the signficance of Ledbetter's appearance at the convention.  Unless the sole point of her speech is to reinforce the mantra, "Where else but in America..."

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on August 26, 2008 at 01:54 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)


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