Ledbetter Filibuster — Where’s the Outrage?

The Washington Post, hardly an anti-business newspaper, made the case for the Ledbetter bill very well in an editorial on Wednesday. Key quote: “Business leaders argue that the paycheck trigger would allow employees to “sit on their rights” and wait to file suit until years have passed in order to make it more difficult for companies to defend against old allegations. This argument is utterly without merit.”

Nevertheless, Senate Republicans refused to let the bill even come to a vote, sparing President Bush the need to exercise his threatened veto.

So, what will be the political consequences? Here’s Sen. Barbara Mikulski in yesterday’s NYT:

“I have a terrible feeling the Senate just won’t get it,” said Senator Barbara Mikulski, Democrat of Maryland, who suggested that the still-male-dominated Senate remained out of touch about the nation’s changing workplaces. “But the women will get it, and we will start a revolution.”

Well, will they? Unfortunately, I suspect not. Young people, not old ones, usually start revolutions, and young women’s apathy or antipathy toward traditional feminist issues like the right to sue for damages for workplace sex discrimination is a commonplace. And Ms. Ledbetter was not the kind of woman whom young, college educated women might find easy to identify with. She’s in her sixties, and she was a low-level supervisor in an Alabama tire factory. It’s not like she worked for a hedge fund.

This blog appears to be read by only the five people who regularly contribute. But LB assures me that her students lurk here, too intimidated to post. Well, if that’s so, here’s my challenge to young lurkers, especially young women. The Supreme Court’s decision in Ledbetter was unjust, and the Senate Republicans’ filibuster of a bill to correct that injustice was outrageous. WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU GOING TO DO ABOUT IT? Please let me know in the comment section.


23 Responses to Ledbetter Filibuster — Where’s the Outrage?

  1. dspett says:

    I am not intimidated!

    I will talk to a few people I know in the College Feminists to sound them out on this issue. So many people don’t pay attention to issues on this campus, I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re not following it.

  2. dspett says:


    See also my most recent post (URL above). There’s so little activism on campus these days. Reading Bob McFadden’s account of the protests at Columbia in ’68 seems so foreign.

  3. nobamakoolaid says:

    I too challenged several very intelligent young women on campus to visit our site and opine. But alas, nearly 48 hours have passed and no takers. I can confirm that there are lurkers because I occasionally see them on campus and this blog invariably is a topic of our conversations. The fact that most of them choose to watch from the sidelines goes a long way toward confirming Jeff’s assertion about the unlikelihood of a new revolution. Any of you lurkers disagree?

  4. lilyb09 says:

    I haven’t read about this bill beyond the links on this blog, so my apologies if this issue has already been addressed, but if congress isn’t willing to lengthen or get rid of the statute of limitations, why not make available to all employees at every company the average salary (male/female) for the job they are performing? that way this kind of situation wouldn’t come up.

    As a female undergraduate I can attest to the apathy and wave of antifeminist sentiment that pervades my campus. I have no problem with the label “feminist,” since to me it has one meaning and one meaning only: equal rights. Unfortunately most of my female schoolmates reject the word because of its negative connotations. They hear “feminist” and picture an ugly, bitter, man-hating lesbian. I’m sure there are some feminists that fit that description. But it’s really time we take back the meaning of the word. Over spring break I had a conversation about this with my mom and she told me how much it angered and hurt her to see my generation of women tearing apart all the progress her generation worked tirelessly for. Every time I turn on the television and see commercials and tv shows that are really no different from the ridiculous airline compnay ads from the 60s, I feel so frustrated and ashamed. But to be completely honest, there is a part of me that buys into the entire thing, which is even worse. As much as I want to be an independent, strong and self-confident person, every time I see the female gender reduced to a naked supermodel, it triggers something in my head like self-loathing.

    As for what I plan to do about it… nothing right now. I feel powerless in many regards. Hopefully I will finish college, go to law school and find some way to make a difference. I know my attitude is disappointing. But right now I’m just trying to keep up.

  5. nobamakoolaid says:

    Welcome Lily! Great to have your input! Myself (and I suspect others) blog away here with our opinions and observations that have been molded by times and issues other than yours. I for one thoroughly enjoy discussing these issues through the perspective of a young aspiring activist such as you.
    As to your suggestion that salaries become transparent across all industries, I must disagree. Some industries lend themselves to transparency better than others. The freedom to negotiate and be compensated in relation to performance would suffer, discouraging some of our most talented people.
    I do understand your frustrations, and I wouldn’t beat yourself up too badly over occasionally buying into some of the commercial machines that vie for your attention 24/7 – you are human after all. I also would not characterize your current position as doing nothing. By completing your education and going to law school, you are setting yourself up to make some real differences in the future; you are simply trading the ability to make minor differences today for the ability to make major differences tomorrow.
    Once again, great to have your opinion and keep them coming. There are a number of NU students as well as others from various professions across the country here. I believe most of us tend to lean leftward, but we still find plenty of fodder to entice a bit of lively debate.

  6. laurabethnielsen says:

    Why not transparent salaries, Koolaid? Isn’t more information better?

    Lily — you might enjoy a book called, “Female Chauvanist Pigs” — your mom would like it too.

  7. nobamakoolaid says:

    I could give you all the economic theory, LB, but I’ll give you an example instead. About a decade ago, I was working in sales for company A. I was doing quite well. Company B got tired of me taking their business and came to me with an offer of employment. While company A made a counter-offer, I decided to move to company B in the end. The salary/commission structure was quite lucrative for me at the time. I then joined a sales team of 11 people. While they knew I must have been offered something good to switch companies, they did and could not (I was forbidden from discussing salary with coworkers) have known how much. If they did, moral would have plummeted among those that were making less. The fact is that I was more valuable at that particular time to that particular company than most of my coworkers. If transparency had been mandated, I would have never received such an offer. Their offer and my ultimate decision were based in large part on money, but many other factors contributed as well. Both the company and I decided we were a good match. If transparency had been mandated, the negotiation would have never taken place. Transparency would prevent companies and individuals from finding situations that are most efficient. The effect would be to hold wages down across most industries. I do not believe that is the direction we want to go.
    That being said, I think the statute of limitations in this area could be more fluid. If clear evidence still exists that point to a particular conclusion, why do we ignore it? Judges make plenty of other decisions. Why not allow them to decide if a particular case should move forward and particular evidence is admitted?

  8. jeffaregularworkinglawyer says:

    Lily — First, I think that you are absolutely right about the need to take back the word “feminist.” Not from “ugly, bitter, man-hating lesbians”, but from the right wing crowd that has made it synonymous with UBM-HL’s. I’d add “liberal” to the list, too. I’ll make you a deal — call yourself a feminist, and I’ll stop telling people that I’m a “progressive.” I AM A LIBERAL! (albeit kind of a conservative one, both on economic issues and in my personal habits). Gee, that was liberating. (Kind of.)

    Second, electoral politics matter. Ledbetter v. Goodyear was decided on a 5-4 vote. In the majority, two of the justices, Roberts and Alito, were appointed by Pres. Bush II, another two, Scalia and Kennedy, by Pres. Reagan, and the fifth, Thomas, by Pres. Bush I. In the minority, Ginsberg (who read her passionate dissent from the bench) and Breyer were appointed by Pres. Clinton. Justice Stevens was appointed by Pres. Ford, and Souter was appointed by Pres. Bush I. Stevens is almost certainly the next to retire. This is a good reason to think about volunteering fr the Democratic presidential nominee this fall.

    It also matters who controls the Senate. 42 senators voted against cloture for the Ledbetter bill, preventing it from coming to a vote, where it would have won majority support. They were all Republicans. The 2006 election showed that seemingly safe incumbents can be defeated; younger voters and the power of the internet, which they use especially well, made the difference.

    Finally, you don’t have to go to law school to make a difference — you have to go to law school to be a lawyer. You can do both, of course, but if you go to law school you will spend three years learning about things like the rule against perpetuities and the family bible exception to the hearsay rule, which will not be useful to you if you do anything else other than practicing law, and won’t even be all that useful if you do practice law. You will also probably emerge with significant debt.

  9. lbsmom says:

    When I tell people my daughter graduated from Boalt, their eyes light up, & they quickly ask where she’s practicing. Yes, we live in an affluent community where people expect their children to follow their lead & work in high paying jobs. Anyway, you should see their expressions when I say she’s not a practicing attorney. By the time I’ve tried to explain what she does at the Am. Bar Foundation & NU, they’re usually still too stunned to get it!

    Note to Lily—-feminism is not dead; it rages through most females I know, even the ones you might least suspect. Your foremothers never gave up, & I refuse to either. It’s kind of like hoping for peace & seeing none in sight. I just tell myself I am one person working toward a goal when & where I can, & that often affords me the opportunity to engage with folks on the opposite side of an issue.

    Communication is the key, & this blog is one of many admirable tools to that end; however, I believe the best demonstration of your beliefs is the way you live. I can feel both yours & your mom’s passion on this issue, Lily, & that is your best ally. Words are powerful. Actions even more so…

  10. robertlnelson says:

    Ledbetter is an outrageous decision, but this is a good example of how difficult it is to generate outrage over seemingly technical legal issues. This is not an issue of feminism, but simple equality. A pay claim like Lily Ledbetter’s is perhaps the least problematic in Title VII or Equal Pay Act jurisprudence. By redefining the scope of potential liability, the conservative coalition on the Court handed business yet another present. And they did it not by denying that discrimination had taken place, but the scope of potential damages. It is up to political leaders and equality activists to keep this issue alive–including coming up with straightforward explanations of what the Court did and how outrageous it is. I will take up Nobama’s point about transparency in another comment.

    So, come on, Jeff and everyone, what is the slogan that captures this?

  11. lbsmom says:

    I tried a few–inequality wins, equality loses–again; congressional pet: big business; Lilly’s pockets are not deep enough.

    Isn’t it always about money? Big business pays big taxes in spite of big tax breaks.

  12. robertlnelson says:

    Hey Nobama,
    As an economist, how do you explain your preference for not providing information to coworkers about what their coworkers make? Would it not improve the functioning of the labor market? It is interesting when management likes to invoke the market for some things but not others. Can you help us understand this particular instance?

  13. robertlnelson says:

    How about something simple, like “equal pay for equal work.” Like, Senator McConnell opposes equal pay for equal work. He led the filibuster of a federal law that would require employers to provide a remedy for women who can prove they were paid less than male workers in the same job.

    If you gave a random sample of Americans a multiple choice question about whether it was legal to pay a man and a woman different wages when they performed the same job, what do you think the responses would be? And how would they break down by gender, education, and income?

  14. nobamakoolaid says:

    Ah, Mr. Nelson. Great to hear from you. I am seeing a pattern of being accused by my friends on the right of being a radical liberal. And, from the left I hear that many of my ideas are simply not edible as they belong in the mouths of little baby Newt Gingriches. As to how I see myself, it is certainly not as a centrist.
    I only bring that up because you asked so many questions in so little time. You are a very intelligent man and know that I cannot discuss an entire text on Labor Economics on a blog. That being said let’s give this doomed battle a shot.
    It is all about incentives. Just because we may be working at the same plant with the same job title, it does not mean that we are robots and perform exactly the same. As an employer, you want to limit the number of shirkers and increase the number of productive workers. As a productive employee, you don’t want your pay based on the performance of the least productive. As a shirker, you want to bring everybody down to your level to avoid being noticed. Shirkers lower the moral and productivity of productive employees until they either leave or lower their standards. After all, why should you continue to work hard when most everybody else is taking it easy; especially if you are all being paid equally. You can have transparency, but it can be shown mathematically that it will reduce efficiency and drive down wages.
    Discrimination along racial or gender lines is absolutely unacceptable. Simply using the information the state already collects could help identify cases like Ledbetter long before the statute of limitations runs out. Employers regularly submit payroll taxes for their employees. What if employees were allowed to voluntarily ID themselves within this data is male/female, black/white, etc. This data could then be filtered into system that would detect whether there were statistically significant pay differences between like coworkers. That would at least send up a red flag that could be investigated.
    See, I have gone on too long already, Mr. Nelson. And I was just getting started. Perhaps this is a conversation best finished over a Black n Tan.

  15. laurabethnielsen says:

    Mom: Please ask these folks to help out so I can move out of my hovel and afford to feed my children! Haha. Yes I could make 10 times as much, but I believe that children are our future . . .

    Anyway — KoolAid, you are betraying econ’s (often) conservatist bent because I KNOW that YOU KNOW we have methodologies that can control for all the factors in your hypotheticals and the wage gap persists.

    Make mine a Guinness and you are on.

  16. nobamakoolaid says:

    I refuse to accept the conservative label that is placed on economics, most often by other social sciences who do not like it when theories compete with their own. The fact is that these theories need not be competitors, but rather compliments. Economics is not about a political leaning. It is about analyzing behaviors using empirical data. The alternatives are offered and it is up to society to make their own normative judgments. It is true that conservatives have utilized economic theory to make their arguments more than liberals. This is no reason to impugn economics. The theories are available for the left to use and would go a long way toward making many of their arguments more palatable to a larger percentage of the public.
    I cut myself off before laying out all the predicted results of transparency/non-transparency. However, if you could view all alternatives on a continuum, you would see that I advocate for policies that lie to the left; and I have yet to be ostracized in any economic circles.
    If we can begin to respect the motives of each others’ respective disciplines as pure, we may just be able to arrive at a place where things like what happened to Lilly Ledbetter are read about only in history books.

    This might take two Black n Tans.

  17. jeffaregularworkinglawyer says:

    LB — Maybe not quite 10 times as much. And it’s actually old people who are our future. Then dead people. Enjoy Monday!

    Also, it occurs to me that there are a number of groups of employees who all know what their co-workers are paid. Unionized workers — their wages are collectively bargained. Professors at public universities. Law firm partners.

    Knowledge, we are often reminded, is power. Knowing what co-workers are paid gives power to employees, so it is not surprising, or wrong, that employers would prefer to keep this information to themselves, any more than it is surprising, or wrong, that employers would prefer to pay their employees as little as possible to obtain their services. Money is also power, after all.

    Free markets presume perfect information. But of course, there are often imbalances in the amount of information available to market participants. In the securities market, we have established an elaborate regulatory scheme that seeks to ensure the dissemination of certain information equally to all market participants, and sanctions those who trade on certain non-public information. Thus, we say, investors are protected, and the entire society benefits from the efficient allocation of capital.

    In the market for labor, there is no similar regulatory structure. Employers like Koolaid’s are free to trade on inside information (i.e. bargain with employees with knowledge about co-worker pay not available to employees), and are even free to impose sanctions on market participants who seek to obtain or disseminate relevant market information (e.g., “If you tell the guy in the next cubicle how much I’m paying you, I’ll fire you!”). I am not suggesting at all that government regulation of information flow in the labor market would be a good idea (if nothing else, information may be available through informal channels — ask yourself if you have a pretty good idea about what your co-workers make — publicly available surveys, or collective action, although these channels apparently didn’t work for Lily Ledbetter), but if we recognize efficient allocation of capital as a social good, then why isn’t efficient allocation of labor as well? Or is the efficient allocation rationale for securities regulation just a smokescreen for justifying the use of public funds for a program that disproportionately benefits the wealthy, investor class — a form of upper class welfare?

  18. jeffaregularworkinglawyer says:

    Koolaid — In my role as grammar and usage scold, I feel constrained to let you know that the word you are looking for is “morale”.

  19. nobamakoolaid says:

    Is this horse dead yet? Just to make sure I will strike another blow.

    I am happy to debate the specifics of the labor markets as they are affected by various governmental constraints, but this forum doesn’t allow for the necessary details. My contention is that there may be several ways to get from point A to point B. To choose one method without at least exploring others is naïve at best. Obviously, I don’t believe that complete transparency is the best method. But, it seems that most of you are unwilling to accept that alternatives even exist. If we agree that no person, be she black, white, green, male, female, Jew, Muslim, etc., should ever be denied a fair opportunity in the workplace based on any of these characteristics, then why not explore all of the ways of accomplishing that goal? In the end, it will almost certainly mean that we must sacrifice efficiency to some degree; but wouldn’t we want to choose a method that minimizes that sacrifice and leaves these workers in the best possible position?

  20. jeffaregularworkinglawyer says:

    Koolaid — Just in case that last comment was directed at mine, I’ll add two things — obviously, the labor market is subject to a great deal of regulation, including anti-discrimination legislation. What’s interesting about anti-discrimination legislation is that although it was motivated by non-economic policies (i.e., a belief that discrimination is morally wrong), it can also be justified on purely economic grounds — employment discrimination is irrational and inefficient. Second, I’m not suggesting that additional regulation requiring greater dissemination of pay information would be a good thing — indeed, I’ll go out on a limb and say that it strikes me as a bad idea. All the more reason, then, that the Ledbetter bill, which takes into account the difficulty that workers may have in obtaining information about pay inequality in deciding when the statute of limitations should begin to run — is a good bill, not just on moral grounds, but on economic grounds as well.

  21. laurabethnielsen says:

    I can’t wait til the 2 of you have to be in the same room. I will have a party to which you both shall come.

  22. jeffaregularworkinglawyer says:

    Better have it soon, LB — I’m thinking about moving to Mexico before the Feds finish building that wall to keep me in.

  23. nobamakoolaid says:

    Ha Ha Ha

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