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Ledbetter v. Goodyear and Fair Pay, One Year Later

As a Senator, John McCain has helped George W. Bush pack the federal courts with right wing judges, judges who serve for life and who will extend the legacy of President Bush for decades to come. In fact, it seems that Senator McCain has never met a bad Bush judicial nominee he didn’t like, including John Roberts and Samuel Alito. With McCain’s help, Roberts is now the Chief Justice of the United States, and Alito is right by his side on the Supreme Court.

And with McCain continuing to heap praise on Roberts and Alito, it’s only fitting, as we approach the first anniversary of one of the most harmful rulings in which Roberts and Alito have participated, to take a look at the damage done in that one decision alone.

Lilly Ledbetter worked for decades in a Goodyear Tire plant in Alabama, the kind of place where so many Americans work. But until Lilly received an anonymous tip late in her career, she had no idea that for years on end she was being paid far less than were her male colleagues doing the same work — and that the unequal pay was the result of a discriminatory evaluation.

Lilly sued, and won her case before a jury, which found that Goodyear had unlawfully discriminated against Lilly because of her sex, and awarded her back pay.

Did Goodyear settle with Lilly, a longtime employee? No, it appealed, all the way to the Supreme Court, and in a 5-4 ruling on May 29, 2007, the Court ruled against Lilly, taking away her back pay. In an opinion by Justice Alito and joined by Chief Justice Roberts, the five-justice majority held that Lilly had sued too late, that she should have filed her lawsuit within 180 days of the discriminatory evaluation. Alito and Roberts rejected the previously accepted view of federal anti-discrimination law — that each paycheck Lilly received based on a discriminatory evaluation started a new 180-day clock running on the time to sue.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote a scathing dissent in which she accused Alito and Roberts of a "cramped interpretation" of the anti-discrimination law that was incompatible with the law’s "broad remedial purpose." As Justice Ginsburg pointed out, many employees have no idea what their co-workers earn, and discriminatory pay is often hidden by employers.

And so thanks to the Supreme Court, Lilly Ledbetter has been left with no remedy for the sex discrimination that she suffered on the job. Lilly could be any worker, anywhere. The Court’s decision in her case will make it harder for workers across the country who have been victimized by unlawful pay discrimination to recover the back pay to which they are entitled. Rulings like the one in Lilly’s case underscore how important the Supreme Court is to all Americans, every single day.

Happy Anniversary, Senator McCain.