Sabrina Corzo is a 2L at American University Washington College of Law. She graduated from Florida State University and is interested in Constitutional, Civil Rights, and Employment Law. 

In 1998, Lilly Ledbetter filed a sex discrimination lawsuit against Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company, alleging pay discrimination under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.[1] Ledbetter worked for Goodyear from 1979 until 1998, and during employment, Goodyear based pay for salaried employees like Ledbetter on the employees’ supervisors’ performance evaluations.[2] Ledbetter asserted her evaluators gave her low performance due to her sex.[3] She further contended that past pay decisions affected her throughout her employment.[4] Ledbetter alleged she was making significantly less than her male counterparts by the end of her employment.[5] While the trial court awarded back pay for Ledbetter, the appellate court reversed.[6] The appellate court, held that a plaintiff may not bring a Title VII pay discrimination claim for unlawful employment practices that occurred outside the statutorily mandated 180-day period for filing an EEOC charge.[7] On writ for certiorari, the Supreme Court held that an employee may maintain a pay discrimination claim under Title VII based on an employer’s allegedly discriminatory pay decision only if the employee timely filed an EEOC charge relating to those decisions.[8]

Following the release of the Ledbetter decision in 2007, Congress acted quickly to enact the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, recognizing the reality of wage discrimination.[9] The Act allowed for each time an employer disperses a paycheck to a discriminated individual, each disbursement creates a separate wage violation.[10] The employer’s violation exists regardless of when the discrimination began and the employee could receive recovery for up to two years preceding the filing charge.[11] The Lilly Ledbetter Act allowed individuals to seek recovery based on continuous discrimination, even outside the EEOC’s filing requirement.[12]

Fifteen years have passed since the adoption of the Lilly Ledbetter Act, and it has created a ripple effect within present-day society.[13] However, the extent of the Act’s impact remains questionable.[14] While awareness of unequal pay has increased, leading to the gender wage gap for women overall has reduced from 77 cents to a dollar in 2009 to 84 cents to a dollar in 2022, a wage gap remains apparent.[15] Legislators must create bills to continue the momentum in closing the gender wage gap.[16]

During the Biden-Harris Administration, there have been actions to attempt to reduce the gender wage gap.[17] The Department of Labor’s Good Jobs Initiative has provided workplace transparency and ensured workers can access jobs free of discrimination and harassment.[18]  The Department of Commerce’s CHIPS and Science Act has required that applicants who request over $150 million in direct funding submit plans to provide accessible, affordable, and high-quality childcare.[19] This requirement aims to build a diverse workplace and give opportunities to workers with familial obligations.[20] The American Rescue Plan Child Care Stabilization Fund program provided subsidies to the childcare industry to provide reasonably priced childcare options to American families.[21] The program offers higher wages to childcare workers, subsequently, pushing mothers because of the availability of childcare.[22] These initiatives have furthered the purpose of reducing discrimination based on sex in wage discrimination cases since more resources are readily available for women to take advantage of these programs.[23]

The recently proposed Paycheck Fairness Act would strengthen the enforcement of the Equal Pay Act of 1963.[24] Specifically, it would limit an employer’s defense based on a factor other than sex to only bona fide job-related factors in wage discrimination claims, enhance nonretaliation provisions, make it unlawful to make an employee sign a contract prohibiting discussion of their salaries and increase civil penalties for violations of equal pay provisions.[25]  If Congress enacted the Act, it would help prohibit wage discrimination based on sex and further the goals set forth in the Lilly Ledbetter Act.[26] Opposers to this bill, while some don’t inherently disagree with the concept that women should not be paid less than men on the basis of sex, many take the position that the Act will is not the way to go.[27] Opposers believe the Act will create an influx of litigation cases, create high liability issues with corporations, and threaten compensation based on factors such as experience, education, location, and shift work.[28] Although opposers may have potential concerns, this Act is a large stride toward wage equality. In taking the first step, even if it’s not a large step, it is essential if the U.S. wants to continue the movement toward decreasing wage discrimination.

While there has been movement in the Legislative and Executive branches to reduce the gender wage gap and further the goals outlined in the Lilly Ledbetter Act, these efforts have fallen short.[29] Wage discrimination occurs daily, and the longer it takes for Congress to enact change, the more women will be affected by discrimination simply because they’re women in the work field.[30] Furthering awareness about wage discrimination will continue to push forward women’s fight for wage equality.

[1] Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. Inc., 550 U.S. 618, 618 (2007).

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Id. at 623.

[7] Id.

[8] Id. at 643. (emphasis added).

[9] Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 § 122:76.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] See Lilly Ledbetter, The Future of Pay Equity, 15 Years After Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act (January 29, 2024), https://msmagazine.com/2024/01/29/equal-pay-equity-lilly-ledbetter-fair-pay-act/.

[14] Id.

[15]Gaylynn Burroughs, 2024 Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act Anniversary, National Women’s Law Center (January 2024), https://nwlc.org/wp-content/uploads/2024/01/Ledbetter-One-Pager.pdf. (noting that disparities in the gender wage gape vary depending on race and ethnicity as well. For Black women it has decreased by 7 cents (62 cents:1 dollar in 2009 to 69 cents:1 dollar in 2022), Hispanic women it has decreased by 4 cents (53 cents: 1 dollar in 2009 to 57 cents: 1 dollar in 2022), Native women it has actually increased by 1 cent (60 cents:1 dollar in 2009 to 59 cents:1 dollar in 2022), and for AANHPI women it decreased by 7 cents (84 cents:1 dollar in 2009 to 93 cents to 1 dollar in 2022)).

[16] Id.

[17] FACT SHEET: Biden-Harris Administration Announces New Actions to Advance Pay Equity on the 15th Anniversary of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, The White House (January 29, 2024) https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2024/01/29/fact-sheet-biden-harris-administration-announces-new-actions-to-advance-pay-equity-on-the-15th-anniversary-of-the-lilly-ledbetter-fair-pay-act/.

[18] U.S. Department of Labor, Department of Commerce and Department of Labor Good Jobs Principle, https://www.dol.gov/general/good-jobs/principles

[19] U.S. Department of Commerce, Biden-Harris Administration Launches First CHIPS for America Funding Opportunity, (February 28, 2023) https://www.commerce.gov/news/press-releases/2023/02/biden-harris-administration-launches-first-chips-america-funding.

[20] U.S. Department of Commerce, ‘FACT SHEET: Building a Skilled and Diverse Workforce’ National Institute of Standards and Technology, (February 28, 2023) https://www.nist.gov/system/files/documents/2023/02/28/CHIPS_NOFO-1_Building_Skilled_Diverse_Workforce_Fact_Sheet_0.pdf (describing CHIPS Acts purpose of boosting domestic semiconductor manufacturing, solidifying America’s technological leadership, and promote U.S. economic and national security and emphasizing the importance of a diverse workforce).

[21] American Rescue Plan Act, H.R. 1319, 117th Cong. (2021).

[22] Id.

[23] White House, supra note 17

[24] U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, The Equal Pay Act of 1963, https://www.eeoc.gov/statutes/equal-pay-act-1963.

[25] Paycheck Fairness Act, S. 728, 118th Cong. (2023).

[26] Id.

[27] See Press Release, Foxx: The Paycheck Fairness Act is not a win for women in the slightest, Committee on Education & the Workforce, (April 15, 2021) https://edworkforce.house.gov/news/documentsingle.aspx?DocumentID=407378 (citing statements made by  Education and Labor Committee Republican Leader Virginia Foxx).

[28] See Alex Gangitano, Business groups oppose Paycheck Fairness Act, citing concerns it could threaten bonuses and negotiation, The Hill (April 15, 2021) https://thehill.com/business-a-lobbying/548489-business-groups-oppose-paycheck-fairness-act-citing-concerns-it-could/; Leonard King, ’A fundamental issue of fairness’: Paycheck Fairness Act bill to address gender pay gap blocked by Senate Republicans, USA Today (June 8, 2021) https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2021/06/08/senate-gop-blocks-paycheck-fairness-bill-aimed-closing-gender-gap/7588942002/

[29] Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, supra note 9 (aiming to raise worker protections against pay discrimination)

[30] See Carolina Aragão, Gender pay gap in U.S. hasn’t changed much in two decades, Pew Research Center, (March 1, 2023) https://www.pewresearch.org/short-reads/2023/03/01/gender-pay-gap-facts/ (explaining why the wage gap is still evident and reasoning why the wage gap has not closed more).