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| Gender Pay Gap
| Are women paid fairly in the workplace?
| March 14, 2008 • Volume 18, Issue 11
| By Thomas J. Billitteri Introduction
Former Goodyear manager Lilly Ledbetter won more than $3 million in a pay-discrimination suit against the tire firm, but the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the verdict in 2007 for filing her complaint too late. (AFP/Getty Images/Fannie Carrier)
| More than four decades after Congress passed landmark anti-discrimination legislation — including the Equal Pay Act of 1963 — a debate continues to rage over whether women are paid fairly in the workplace. Contending that gender bias contributes to a significant "pay gap," reformists support proposed federal legislation aimed at bringing women's wages more closely in line with those of men. Others say new laws are not needed because the wage gap largely can be explained by such factors as women's choices of occupation and the amount of time they spend in the labor force. Meanwhile, a class-action suit charging Wal-Mart Stores with gender bias in pay and promotions — the biggest sex-discrimination lawsuit in U.S. history — may be heading for the Supreme Court. Some women's advocates argue that a controversial high-court ruling last year makes it more difficult to sue over wage discrimination.Go to topOverview"An insult to my dignity" is the way Lilly Ledbetter described it. For 19 years, she worked at the Goodyear Tire plant in Gadsden, Ala., one of a handful of women among the roughly 80 people who held the same supervisory position she did. Over the years, unbeknownst to her, the company's pay-raise decisions created a growing gap between her wages and those of her male colleagues. When she left Goodyear, she was earning $3,727 a month. The lowest-paid man doing the same work got $4,286. The highest-paid male made 40 percent more than she did. Ledbetter sued in 1998, and a jury awarded her back pay and more than $3 million in damages. But in the end, she lost her case in the U.S. Supreme Court. A conservative majority led by Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. ruled that under the nation's main anti-discrimination law she should have filed a formal complaint with the federal government within 180 days of the first time Goodyear discriminated against her in pay. Never mind, the court said, that Ledbetter didn't learn about the pay disparity for years."The Supreme Court said that this didn't count as illegal discrimination," she said after the ruling, "but it sure feels like discrimination when you are on the receiving end of that smaller paycheck and trying to support your family with less money than the men are getting for doing the same job." A suit filed by Betty Dukes, right, and other female Wal-Mart employees accuses the retail giant of sex discrimination in pay, promotions and job assignments in violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The case, covering perhaps 1.6 million current and former Wal-Mart employees, is the biggest class-action lawsuit against a private employer in U.S. history. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
| The Ledbetter decision has added fuel to a long-burning debate over sex discrimination in women's wages and whether new laws are needed to narrow the disparity in men's and women's pay."A significant wage gap is still with us, and that gap constitutes nothing less than an ongoing assault on women's economic freedom," declared U.S. Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro, D-Conn., at a congressional hearing on a pay-equity bill she is sponsoring, one of several proposed on Capitol Hill.But that view is hardly universal. "Men and women generally have equal...
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