Eugene Weekly : Natural Resistance : 3.12.09

A Tale of Two Pens
Triumph over discrimination
by Mary O’Brien

In the first photo, six flags (for the second trimester of pregnancy?) and nine men form a phalanx behind President George W. Bush who is sitting at a small writing desk on what looks to be a stage. The nine men have arranged themselves in a tidy line, with the three tallest in the center. They’re all dressed in black suits and shiny black shoes and they’re all looking at their president. George W., meanwhile, is concentrating pretty hard. He’s signing the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003 to make illegal the procedure that was being used in 0.12 percent of all abortions.

Because the act doesn’t provide any “health exception” for pregnant women facing a medical emergency, three federal district courts and three federal appeal courts had ruled the act unconstitutional. The Supreme Court, by a one-vote margin, overrode them, declaring the act constitutional.

The day that two of President Bush’s Supreme Court nominees joined three others to protect discrimination against Lily, Bush declared that the great thing the Court had showed was that the Constitution “does not stand in the way of the people’s representatives enacting laws reflecting the compassion and humanity of America.” 

Speaking of reflecting compassion and humanity, there’s a second photo. Four women in bright red suits and one in a purple suit are crowded around President Barack Obama. He’s holding the hand of Lily Ledbetter, who has her hand on his shoulder. With his other hand, he’s passing to another woman in a green jacket one of the pens he has just used to sign the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. Everyone is looking at the pen-receiving woman, not Barack Obama, and Obama appears to be having a good time. And he’s wearing an American flag pin. 

The law he’s just signed says that the 180-day statute of limitations for challenging unequal pay for equal work starts anew with every discriminatory paycheck. Initially, in 1979, Lily Ledbetter’s salary as a Goodyear area manager was similar to the salaries of male area managers. By the end of 1997, when she retired, she was the only female area manager and was being paid $3,727 per month. Her male area manager colleagues, no matter how new, were being paid $4,286 to $5,236 a month. In 2007, the Supreme Court, again exercising its compassion and humanity, ruled that Goodyear wasn’t liable for its decade-plus payday discrimination against Lily Ledbetter because Lily hadn’t initiated her suit within 180 days of the first discriminatory pay check. 

In January 2009, the House passed the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act by 250-177. In the Senate, every Republican male except Pennsylvania’s Arlen Specter voted against the Fair Pay Act. Every Democratic male senator voted for it, except Sen. Edward Kennedy, who was absent due to illness. Every female senator, including the four female Republican senators, voted for it.

The first photo is chilling for its display of cold male power against women. The second photo is inspiring for the women’s enjoyment of the defeat of cold male power against women. The retired Goodyear area manager is heartwarmingly proud of her president for undoing five Supreme Court justices’ protection of workplace discrimination. Meanwhile, the president is having a heck of a good time among representatives of one more group of people who has just triumphed, once again, over senseless, destructive, indefensible discrimination.

Mary O’Brien of Eugene has worked as a public interest scientist since 1981. She can be reached at