Lilly Ledbetter, Women Deserve More Than Obama Offers, Critics Say

Wednesday, 09 Apr 2014 12:17 PM

By Nick Sanchez

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The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was the first bill ever signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2009, and the woman the act was named for was present Tuesday when the president signed two new executive orders regarding equal pay for women.

The first new order prohibits federal contractors from "retaliating" against employees who discuss their pay, and the second order instructs the Labor Department to create rules requiring contractors to provide pay data on sex and race.

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The orders are significant, but opinion journalists at outlets like Forbes, The Washington Post, and the New York Daily News point out that the overall situation remains the same for women today as it did for Ledbetter both before and after the act was passed. In short, women have no way of knowing whether they are being discriminated against with unequal pay, and trying to find out could jeopardize their job.

"Here we go again," writes S. E. Cupp in the New York Daily News. "In 2014, Democrats are at it once more, introducing symbolic bills that don’t solve women’s problems."

Critics say the Ledbetter Act did little to help women when it amended the Civil Rights Act to dramatically lengthen the statute of limitations on pay-discrimination suits. Instead, it was a windfall for lawyers.

Likewise, the two executive orders won't end pay secrecy, which is the crux of the issue. If women don't have a means of learning how their paycheck compares to their colleagues, they have no way of knowing whether they need to take action to correct a wrongdoing.

"These executive orders are not insignificant, but they are not sufficiently significant to change the lives of women in our country ... When Lily Ledbetter joins President Obama, it will be more ceremony than substance," writes Jennifer Gilhool at Forbes.

After the ceremony, the media put the White House on the defensive, pointing out that there women are only paid 88 cents to their male counterparts' dollar, and that they are under-represented in senior-level positions.

The White House continues to push the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would mandate more pay transparency for private companies, but The Washington Post's Nia-Malika Henderson explained the problem it now faces with that strategy: "The White House is trying to carve out a narrow argument which says more transparency means less discrimination ... even though transparency at the White House still finds a 12 cents pay gap."

Many news outlets also bemoaned President Obama's use of the statistic that states that women make 77 cents for every dollar a man makes, pointing out that it's not a side-by-side comparison of a man and woman in the same position, but rather the comparison of average earnings across all positions and situations.

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