Linda Greenhouse is one of the top journalists who cover the Supreme Court – so many of the other few are also women, why is that? Anyway, there is much you just cannot explain to yourself or others without knowing (sounds axiomatic, I swear I wish it was), and Greenhouse brings some light to recent heat in this column:
You remember Lilly Ledbetter, the poised grandmother who addressed the 2008 Democratic National Convention. A native of Possum Trot, Ala. And a former overnight-shift manager at a Goodyear tire factory, where she was the only woman in her job category. Ms. Ledbetter learned only as she neared retirement that despite promotions and regular raises, she was being paid much less than any of the men. The Supreme Court ruled by a vote of 5 to 4 that she should have figured that out years earlier, and threw out her sex-discrimination lawsuit because she was too late in filing a formal complaint.
Two women, a generation apart: one disrespected by the three-day rant of a thuggish talk show host, the other dissed by five members of the Supreme Court. Each is an accidental heroine (as was Anita Hill, more than 20 years ago) whose plight touched a nerve already inflamed by deeper concerns roiling the public sphere.
In Lilly Ledbetter’s case, it was a mix of old and new: the old concern about equal opportunity and fairness in the workplace given new urgency within the Democratic base by distress at the Supreme Court’s abrupt rightward shift following Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s retirement and her replacement by Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. It was Justice Alito who wrote the majority opinion in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber.
The decision interpreted the 180-day statute of limitations in the country’s basic law against job discrimination, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The court held that the 180-day clock for reporting incidents of discrimination starts running with the initial discriminatory act – in this case, the long-ago decision to pay Ms. Ledbetter less than her male peers. The majority rejected her lawyers’ argument that the clock should be deemed re-set with every subsequent paycheck that reflects and carries forward the original discrimination.
Sandra Fluke didn’t ask to become a cipher for contraception, so it’s important to know that more than a woman’s personality stands behind the significance (and durability) of this issue. Same with Lilly Ledbetter; why do you need to understand what the above court case is about? Tell me again, what does green mean?