Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Lily Ledbetter and Murderers, Same Difference

Blast from the Past

By Eric Singer Feb. 3, 2009 American Spectator

In the first new law passed by Congress and signed by President Barack Obama, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act overturns a U. S. Supreme Court ruling against its namesake.

Lilly Ledbetter, who worked for Goodyear from 1979 through 1998, filed a discrimination claim in May 1998 alleging that she had to rebuff sexual advances of her foreman boss in the early 1980s, and that his unflattering write-ups of her work led to her being underpaid for nearly 20 years. Having stayed on the job, collected money for working and retired receiving additional benefits, she subsequently sought compensatory and punitive damages for actions dating back more than 20 years prior to the time of the trial.

A jury awarded her $228,438 in back pay (including $4,662 for mental anguish), and $3,285,979 in punitive damages. The allegedly harassing supervisor was dead by the time of the trial, so it was Ms. Ledbetter's word against his coffin. She then conflated her sexual harassment claims along with a claim of equal pay for equal work, inviting a mind-numbing review of her roles over the years. The case ended at the Supreme Court in 2007, which overturned this psychodrama by affirming the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's rule that claims of discrimination be made within 180 days of the actual discrimination.

A key risk factor for investors in the current economic crisis has been the rapid loss of the rule of law. The rules keep changing. As the banking contagion spread, some firms -- like AIG, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac-- were rescued, while others -- like Lehman -- were killed. Investors panicked because they no longer knew the rules and the credit markets completely seized up.

As its very first order of business, Congress has created an opportunity for the same kind of panic in the market for employing women. With the passage of this new law, there will be no statute of limitations for any transgression, ever, and every conceivable slight will be valid litigation grounds -- forever. Even the death of the discriminator won't stop the case. (In fact, as we can see from Lilly Ledbetter, it only helps.) It will be a rock festival of nuisance lawsuits and awards. At the margin, Human Resource departments will expand; productive employees will pound salt.

When Congress passed the higher minimum wage law in May 2007, teenage unemployment was about 15%. One year later, it was over 20% -- the unintended consequence of making teens more expensive to hire. By this summer it could be even higher.

Lilly's law may have a similar impact on women. From December 2007 through December 2008, men's unemployment rate went from 4.4% to 7.2%, while women's unemployment rate went from 4.3% to 5.9%. Women are employed at higher rates so there must be widespread discrimination, right? One unintended consequence of this act may in fact be greater discrimination against women. Given two equal candidates for a NEW job, the female may now be viewed as carrying greater financial risk from the increased long-term potential for litigation because of Lilly Ledbetter's Act. And perhaps fewer women will be hired compared to men.

If the unemployment rate for women had been heading towards 8% in the next year or so, I would guess this new law will add at least one or two percent to their top unemployment rate and it will add to the number of hall monitors hired to mitigate liability. The market will have the job of discounting this additional millstone, and I doubt it will like it much.

With this opening act, Congress shows itself to be truly unserious about making it easy for business to take risks and hire people. This law represents a giant step towards copying the mediocrity of European socialism, with its persistent 10% to 12% unemployment rate in good times.

Once upon a time, only murder had no statute of limitations. Now murder one charges and EEOC claims have the same lease on life. Lilly Ledbetter's law puts the future behind us, and promises an endless rehash of the past. Only ghosts live in the past all the time. Congress is taking us to the dark side.

At one time, when I owned a business, I was unjustly accused by a U. S. Labor Dept. agent, under Democrat Carter, of using minors to perform tasks that they were not supposed to do. My attorney advised me to just pay the large fine, which I did. My answer to avoiding such problems in the future was to stop employing all minors - certainly an unintended consequence of the actions of the Labor Dept. Gestapo - and certainly not in the interests of dozens of college students who had worked part-time for me. Such is the way of the world - denied by liberals - but still the way it works.


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At 9:24 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I believe the author leaves out a key relevant point in this case. The claim was not just that there was unfair pay but that she had no access to know about that. I believe this was a key point in evaluating about the statute of limitations. The claim should be made earlier (timely), but how can you start the clock on that if you are unaware of the inequity of the pay?
Maybe the lesson learned like the teenager to only hire men...or women.


At 5:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In many professions, you don't know what the guy or gal next to you is making. You negotiate a price with the boss that hires you. How do you determine what's "fair?"

My answer is that fair is whatever I freely negotiate with the boss. I periodically get other job offers and talk to others, so I have an idea what the going rate is, but I just don't know what that engineer in next office is making. And you know what? I don't care. There are too many factors that go into the value of an employee.

I'd hate to be a business owner with a liberal watchdog and a team of lawyers looking over my shoulder.

What Russ did as a business owner makes perfect sense to me.

At 9:16 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't disagree. BUT if you get 10 people doing a very generic relatively unskilled job like all loading products into a box...or wrapping the boxes, and you later find out that you got paid $5 and everyone else got paid $10, you'd cry foul also.



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