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The Mechanics
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Gender Tue Sep 20 2011

Celebrating a Day for Equal Pay in IL

Last week, Illinois officially declared Sept. 14 to be Lilly Ledbetter Day, a day to recognize the equal pay activist and remember the fight for gender equality. Although this newest of official days pales in comparison to other auspicious days, such International Talk Like a Pirate Day (which you just missed), Lilly Ledbetter Day gives voice to an issue many of us assume is passé but is unfortunately very much current.

Lilly Ledbetter.JPG

Way back in the archaic, Neanderthal days of 1998, Lilly Ledbetter sued Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company for wage discrimination. When Ledbetter neared retirement, she inquired about the salaries of her colleagues and discovered she was making on average $1,000 less per month than her male (and often junior) colleagues. She called BS, sued, won, then lost on appeal, and ended up in the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court ruled narrowly against her on the basis that gender discrimination could not be proven within the 180-day time statute of limitation required by the Equal Pay Act. Ruth Badger Ginsberg gave a famous dissent noting that wage discrimination is neither as time-sensitive nor as obvious as firing a woman outright for not having a Y chromosome.

Fast forward more than a decade after the initial suit to 2009, when President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Day Fair Pay Act as his first act of office. The Act said discrimination starts again with each new paycheck issued. It was a big deal.

Women still earn 77 cents to every dollar men earn. For women of color, this gap is even wider. For many young women working the espresso machine or slave-wage entry-level positions next to their similarly impoverished male co-workers, this argument doesn't seem applicable. Yet on average, a woman will lose one million dollars over the course of her lifetime from not getting raises on par with her male colleagues. Lesson of life: You may be equal to your paycheck-to-paycheck boyfriend now, but in four decades, you will be a million dollars or about 200,000 Starbucks pumpkin-lattes behind him.

Lilly Ledbetter Day and Act are a start to getting women their fair share of deliciously sugary Starbucks drinks, but not enough. For example, did you know that the famous Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), has never actually been ratified? What!? You don't remember that from 8th grade U.S. history? Did you go to public school? Don't worry, many don't realize this iconic amendment was never actually ratified.

To learn more about the ERA and why it should or should not ratified, consider attending "Searching for Equality in the US Constitution - Debating the ERA," an event hosted by the Northwestern Law School. The event is on Friday October 28th at noon at the downtown campus. Sign up on Facebook or just show up with a sugary caffeinated beverage of your choice. If you are female, may I suggest bringing a budget cola such as Super Chill; never to early to start accepting your wage disparity and embracing it.

 
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