April 12 2012
Ledbetter Is about Lawsuits — Not Equal Pay
Carrie L. Lukas
The Romney camp should have had a better response when it was asked about the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act. Team Obama lauds the creation of this law as a triumph in behalf of women’s rights, and has managed to create a sense that opposing Ledbetter equates with a longing to turn the clock back to a Mad Men era. Especially given the current “war on women” narrative, the campaign should have known this question was coming.
In answering the question, the campaign also has the opportunity to expose how this false “war on women” concept distracts from more fundamental economic issues. After all, the Ledbetter law — just like the law that Governor Scott Walker repealed in Wisconsin — has nothing to do with whether discrimination is illegal or whether women deserve to be paid the same as men for equal work. These laws are about the legal process, the terms under which lawsuits can proceed, how employers can defend themselves against claims, and the statutes of limitations for launching a complaint. And setting clear, fair rules is important for job creation and getting our economy back on track.
This isn’t a black-and-white issue; it’s a balancing act. Employees need to have time to file complaints, but employers also need to know that they don’t face a potential liability from employees let go 20 years ago and whose supervisors are no longer even with the company. We need a system that offers just compensation for those truly wronged by an employer, but not one that creates the potential for super-sized payouts that encourage frivolous lawsuits.
Lawsuits impose a big cost on companies and on the economy. Businesses spending money preparing for and conducting litigation don’t have as much to invest in productive enterprises, such as research and development, expanding production, and hiring workers. This doesn’t mean that companies should be shielded from all lawsuits, but we need to discourage frivolous claims while protecting the rights of those who have legitimate grievances.
One can legitimately believe that the Wisconsin’s Equal Pay Enforcement Act went too far in the direction of encouraging unnecessary litigation by increasing the potential payout for punitive damages, and that the Ledbetter Act extended the statute of limitations too long, opening the door for companies to have to defend employment decisions made decades prior, and still believe in the principle of equal pay for equal work. Protecting the economy from the costs of frivolous or impossible-to-litigate lawsuits isn’t a “war on women.” But those on the right — and particularly the presumptive GOP nominee — have to be prepared to explain that to a hostile media that’s eager to advance the Left’s narrative.