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A decade ago, on Jan. 29, 2009, newly inaugurated President Barack Obama signed his first bill into law: the
Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009


It was the latest legislative effort to close the persistently stubborn gap between how much women and men earn. At the time, a level that hadn’t improved all that much since the 1990s, according to Census data.


The case was appealed all the way to the Supreme Court, which in 2007 ruled 5-4 that employees must file a complaint within 180 days after their employer makes a pay decision. The fact that the discrimination was embedded in each paycheck and that Ledbetter didn’t know of the disparity for many years did not matter. Time had run out on her claim.


read from the bench, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg noted that the ruling denied workplace realities. She pointed out that since employees often lack information about pay disparities, which can accumulate slowly over time, they shouldn’t be given such a narrow window in which to file a complaint.

大法官露丝·巴德·金斯伯格(Ruth Bader Ginsburg)在法庭上宣读了这一判决,她指出,这一裁决否定了工作场所的现实情况。她指出,由于员工往往缺乏有关薪酬差距的信息,而这些信息会随着时间的推移慢慢积累,因此不应该给他们这么短的时间来投诉。

Ultimately, the 111th Congress and President Obama agreed with Justice Ginsburg and nullified the decision. It makes clear that the statute of limitations for filing a wage discrimination claim resets with each discriminatory paycheck.


A disappointing impact


And for women of color, the gap is even starker. Latinas earn 52 cents to the dollar of white men, while African-American women earn just 61 cents. Within racial groups, a pay gap between men and women persists, although it is narrower.


A stubborn gap
The gap between what women and men earn has barely budged in recent decades. Currently, women earn about 80 percent of what men make.


These statutory interpretations may sound technical, but they matter. They help explain why the gap appears stuck at 80 cents and why some estimate it’ll be at least until 2059 until pay equity in the United States is reached.


Why it persists
Another reason the gap is so stubborn is that men and women are steered into different occupations, and male-dominated occupations pay more for comparable work.


And so-called “choices” cannot explain why female recent college graduates are paid 82 percent of their male counterparts or why the gap widens at the top. Professional women with advanced degrees who work full-time face a gender gap of 74 percent.


Closing the gender gap
Closing the gender pay gap is not rocket science – even though recently graduated female rocket scientists earn 89 cents on the dollar to their male peers.


The economic gains from closing the gender pay gap are huge. Doing so would add about $513 billion to the economy because of the extra income generated, reduce poverty and do a lot to support American families since mothers are the sole or primary breadwinners in about half of them.


Passing the Lilly Ledbetter Act was a start, and now we owe it to American workers to enact laws that close the gap once and for all.