All hail Lilly Ledbetter

Obama signs equal pay bill into law, expanding workers' ability to sue when discriminated against.

Published January 29, 2009 6:40PM (EST)

Just a week ago, on the 36th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, President Obama made a strong statement on women's rights: "On this anniversary, we must also recommit ourselves more broadly to ensuring that our daughters have the same rights and opportunities as our sons."

Today, the new chief executive signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act into law. It suggests that his administration is going to set the policies to back up that moving feminist rhetoric. Upon signing the equal pay legislation, the first bill he's signed into law in his presidency, Obama said it would "send a clear message that making our economy work means making sure it works for everyone," according to the New York Times.

The law is named for an Alabama woman who, after working for 19 years at the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Plant company, complained that she'd been paid less than the men throughout her entire career there. Although a court ruled that she had been discriminated against, the Supreme Court threw out her case, because it found she should have filed her complaint 180 days after first being paid by Goodyear. Congress brought the legislation to relax the statute of limitations on such lawsuits over equal pay.

"It is fitting that with the very first bill I sign -- the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act -- we are upholding one of this nation's first principles: that we are all created equal and each deserve a chance to pursue our own version of happiness," the president said.

And let's not forget to salute Lilly Ledbetter herself, now age 70, who through her tenacity has improved the lot of others workers. "Goodyear will never have to pay me what it cheated me out of," Ledbetter said today. "In fact, I will never see a cent. But with the president's signature today I have an even richer reward."

By Katharine Mieszkowski

Katharine Mieszkowski is a senior writer for Salon.

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