Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009

The White House - Blog Post - A Wonderful Day

Today, President Obama signed into law the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009.  This act will counteract the Supreme Court's decision of 2007 to limit the ability of employees to take their company to court for pay discrimination.  In 2007, the supreme court ruled that employees had only 180 days from the first day a valid discrimination of pay was instituted by the company the employee was working for to file a suite.  This ruling was not a 180 days from the first day you learned of the pay descrimination, but 180 day from the moment of pay descrimination.

Why is this a problem? Because often we do not know if we are being discriminated against, since the culture of silence around discussing issues such as salary is so institutionalized.  Indeed, several companies I have worked for has required employees to sign an agreement that specifically states that they will NOT disclose their rate of pay to other employees under the threat of disciplinary action or loosing their job.  These clauses often embedded in company "loyalty" oaths statements help corporations and other smaller companies legally practice forms of civil discrimination, and in my book - this does not bode well for labor, minorities, and women.

In Lilly's case, it was years before she knew that she was being paid substantially less for doing the same job as her male counterparts and so it took years before she brought the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. to court.  for me, today is a good, as the White House Blog states, but for others it is not such a good day.

The Sunlight Foundation, a fantastic organization that works to promote transparency in government and business using technology and blogging, is worried about this action today by Obama.  In a blog post, Paul Blumenthal rightfully questions the "transparency" promises of the White House with this bill.  Blumenthal writes:

For quite some time President Obama has promised that all non-emergency
legislation will be open for public comment on for 5
days before the President signs it. I am not sure what constitutes
“emergency” legislation; providing emergency appropriations in response
to a disaster or attack would apply. This was supposed to be a major
element to the President’s transparency efforts, even though the effect
of it can be disputed (the bill has already passed and can’t be changed).

As Blumenthal points out, this is a huge slip of transparency on the first major act of the Obama Presidency.  Yet the truly important point I believe that Mr Blumenthal presents us with, and a critical thinking point at that, is how does the administration and WE define emergency. 

Here is the rub!

For me, civil rights violations constitutes an emergency.  It continues to be a problem in this country, and a very serious one at that.  Being that most of the people I have heard from regarding this issue today are men, I would ask them to take a moment and consider the position of others like Lilly who has been consistently discriminate against because of their race, gender or disability.  Further, think of those solders who have served our country who are also being currently discriminated against because of corporations' fear that they will be called back to combat and so they are also being discriminated against. In general, I believe Obama's efforts here constitutes a utilitarian action - the most good for the most amount of people.

For others such as some fellow twitterers (sp?), an emergency equals only war.  I understand and emphasize with this position.  Regardless, for me, transparency should be really followed in times of war - look at the lack of transparency used to get us into our current war-and how well that came out, right?!  So how do we define 1) transparency and 2) emergency.  This is the real question and we should be debating this question right now and then relaying our definitions to the current administration.   Blumenthal and the Sunlight Foundation is quite right about being concerned here and as was pointed out in his post: "I am not sure what constitutes “emergency” legislation" (para 2), and either am I -this is a problem.  As to other "responders" who calls these concerns "retarded" (Para. 11), this is the communication approach most of us were rejecting when we voted for now President Obama. 

From a communication/ critical thinking point of view, "That's just retarded" is an example "loaded Language" and an ad baculum fallacy that ends discussion possibilities and potential for transparency, as a result of threating language and/or insults.  May I suggest that we all join the conversation and not simply end it.

All thoughts are welcome here.


(Note: I have published this post on both my personal and educational blogs because I think these questions are vital)


  1. I totally get your point that civil rights violations are very important. But what's the harm in letting this sit for five days so there can be public discourse on it.

    As a libertarian-minded person, civil liberties are very, very important to me. Very important issues don't turn into emergency issues until someone's life is in danger.

    Of course, that's just my point of view and I totally respect yours.

    It's just interesting to see how high the Obama administration's "emergency" bar is set and if it consistently remains at the same height.

    I applaud Obama for instituting his transparency measures and I'm sure the public will be able to get more information about what its government is doing under Obama than it did under Bush.

    Now I just wish Bush would be prosecuted for his illegal uses of force, imprisonment and civil rights violations against the people of America and the rest of the world.

    -Mike Foley

  2. Mike,

    There is much that we can agree on here; a great deal of common ground. When all is said and done, yes 5 days for debate would not have hurt. I simply guess my gut feeling was/is that we have been debating this particular issue for 2 years and it was a central promise made by Obama during the election (in direct opposition to McCain's support of the Supreme Court's ruling) and so I feel that there is little surprise or lack of transparency here. Yet your point is well taken. If he has promised transparency and we expect then we must start at the beginning.

    As for the term emergency, I must insist that part of the issue here is that we have not defined the term with its true guidelines. yes war is an emergency (life and death) but I want more transparency there as well. I also believe that there are many cases where civil rights has also been a life or death emergency (looking towards our past). It seems to me that in the end what we are missing and what we need desperately is clarification of terms, ideas and commitments.

    As for Bush - we are in complete agreement here. It's time to bring him in and hold him accountable for his lovely actions! Rebecca

  3. I am more on the extremely liberal mind-bent but on this one I sort of side with Mark--even though I consider that civil rights violations are critical--but unlike a human rights violation (and I know that civil/human rights often overlap)which can implicate physical harm or death, sometimes being able to sit, think and discuss is important and helps make even better decisions and take more clear-headed action. I have learned this after being too hot-headed and reactionary for my own good! :o)

  4. I think you might be reaching with the civil rights thing, but I have a better reason for this being passed without the transparency - because Obama needs to get work done in order to show that he's not a Democratic George Bush, and it needs to be good work. The LLFP does that, and unlike many things Obama wants done, it does it with a minimum of controversy.
    I suspect that "emergency" will have little to do with purpose, and more to do with the speed needed for passage. Some things simply cannot wait for the Committee to be done.
    Obama's job is not only to run the nation, but to do it in a way that makes people realize just what a disaster George W. Bush's reign was, in order that we (perhaps) never do something like that again.


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