Obama hands trial lawyers a major win

Chris Rizo Jan. 30, 2009, 11:44am

Barack Obama (D)

WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline)-In signing his first piece of legislation, U.S. President Barack Obama provided a bonanza for the nation's trial bar, legal reformers say.

The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act overturns a 2007 U.S. Supreme Court decision that employees cannot challenge ongoing pay discrimination if the employer's original discriminatory pay decision occurred outside of the statute of limitations.

Obama said the new law sends a clear message: "That there are no second class citizens in our workplaces, and that it's not just unfair and illegal -- but bad for business-- to pay someone less because of their gender, age, race, ethnicity, religion or disability."

The new law, which Republicans blocked last year, passed the Senate 61-36. The House passed its version of the bill 247-171.

Critics warned that a flood of civil cases could result because the law would essentially eliminate the statute of limitations on pay discrimination.

House Republican Leader John Boehner of Ohio has said the legislation is part of Democrats' effort to reward trial lawyers, a major party contributor.

"It's the first step to begin rewarding the special-interest allies who helped give the Democratic Party control of Washington," Boehner said. "It's the same game plan Democratic leaders will use later in this Congress when they attempt to pass anti-worker legislation supported by their Big Labor allies to strip Americans of their right to secret ballot elections in the workplace."

The legislation was named for Lilly Ledbetter, who sued Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. because she said the company was paying here less than male employees who held similar jobs during her 20 years with the company. She was one of only a handful of female supervisors at the plant in Gadsden, Ala.

A jury sided with Ledbetter, awarding her back-pay and approximately $3.3 million in compensatory and punitive damages.

The Supreme Court affirmed a U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit decision, which held that Ledbetter couldn't sue under the 1964 Civil Rights Act because the alleged discrimination occurred more than 180 days before she filed her claim.

Democrats, sympathizing with Ledbetter's plight, introduced the legislation to overturn the high court's 5-4 ruling.

From Legal Newsline: Reach reporter Chris Rizo at chrisrizo@legalnewsline.com.

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