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Now women have means to gain equity


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POSTED: Friday, January 30, 2009

The wage gap between men and women in comparable jobs has widened during the past decade, and wage equity was set back by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling two years ago that made challenges of pay discrimination more difficult. The first significant legislation signed into law by President Obama gives women the tools that the high court had taken away and could result in major progress toward equity.

Census data shows that men in Hawaii with a college degree or more earned a median salary of $59,000 in 2004-2006, while women with the same academic credentials were paid only $46,000. The women who make less might not know it, which was the case of Lilly M. Ledbetter, a longtime supervisor at a Goodyear tire plant in Alabama.

After 19 years on the job, Ledbetter learned that her salary as the only female supervisor at the plant was $44,700 a year, while salaries of her male colleagues at the same management level ranged from $51,400 to $62,800. The high court rejected her claim to back pay in May 2007, ruling that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 allowed an employee to make such a charge only within six months “;after the alleged employment practice occurred.”;

With the recent addition of conservative Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., the court ruled 5-4 against Ledbetter's claim. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg urged Congress to “;correct this court's parsimonious reading”; of the Civil Rights Act, and Congress did so by votes of 250-177 in the House and 61-36 in the Senate.

President Bush threatened to veto the bill, while President Obama supported it and danced with Ledbetter last week at one of the inaugural balls. The message to employers: Don't discriminate against women.