NASW Attends Historic Signing

 Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act signingNASW Executive Director Elizabeth J. Clark, at far left, was at the White House when President Obama signed the bill into law. Photo: AP

NASW Executive Director Elizabeth J. Clark was invited to the White House to witness President Barack Obama sign a bill into law that is being called a milestone victory for women's rights.

NASW has been a strong supporter of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which reverses the U.S. Supreme Court decision that limited women and other workers' ability to sue for wage discrimination.

The success of the bill indicates that Congress is ready to move towards the ideal of fairness in pay for women across America, said Clark, who attended the signing ceremony in Washington, D.C., along with Social Work Pioneer® Dr. Dorothy I. Height. Social worker and U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), who introduced the bill, stood directly beside the president as he signed the act into law on Jan. 29. U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), a social worker and the new chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, also was in attendance.

Clark said an unwavering goal of social work is to help build a society in which there is equal opportunity and access to resources, regardless of race, gender, religion or any other factor used to discriminate against people. "The signing of this bill is vital to the welfare of working women and families throughout the nation, and we are thrilled to have had a hand in its success," she said.

The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act specifically addresses the time limit during which workers can bring a discrimination lawsuit against an employer under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Previously, workers were required to bring a lawsuit within six months of when the discrimination began. Ledbetter did not learn about the discrepancy in pay between her and her male coworkers until the end of her 19-year career at Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. She was denied redress by a 2007 U.S. Supreme Court decision. NASW joined as amicus curiae with the National Partnership for Women and Families in the case, Ledbetter v. Goodyear. The court said that a person must file a discrimination claim within 180 days of a company's initial decision to pay a worker less than another person doing the same job. The new law now states a worker may sue up to six months after he or she receives any paycheck from a discriminating employer.

Ledbetter attended the signing ceremony at the White House and Obama highlighted her courageous efforts in his speech.

"It is fitting that with the very first bill I sign . . . we are upholding one of this nation's first principles: that we are all created equal and each deserve a chance to pursue our own version of happiness," Obama said. "If we stay focused, as Lilly did, and keep standing for what's right, as Lilly did, we will close that pay gap and ensure that our daughters have the same rights, the same chances, and the same freedom to pursue their dreams as our sons." Clark added up-to-minute details from her front-row seat at the signing ceremony by posting messages on the NASW Twitter Web site, a popular social networking service that allows members to post instant updates of activities. Clark said using the service is a new way to explain some of the association's memorable and exciting experiences.

Besides its support for the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, NASW also supports the Paycheck Fairness Act, which was originally included in the bill passed by the House of Representatives, but removed in the Senate version of the bill. Despite the defeat of the Paycheck Fairness Act, NASW strongly contends that both bills are imperative remedies to redress not only pay disparity, but also other types of discriminatory actions that impact the lives of working women.