Obama Signs Equal-Pay Bill Into Law

The first law signed by President Barack Obama is named for a 70-year-old Alabama grandmother, Lilly Ledbetter. The new law reverses a 2007 Supreme Court decision that set strict time limits on pay discrimination suits. Ledbetter was joined at the White House by prominent women in both parties.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel. President Obama signed his first major piece of legislation today, making it easier for victims of workplace discrimination to challenge their employers in court. The measure was cheered as a victory for women and families. NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

(Soundbite of signing ceremony)

(Soundbite of applause)

SCOTT HORSLEY: The White House East Room was packed at the president's first big signing ceremony. The vice president and first lady were there along with a dozen or so top lawmakers. But the star of the show was Lilly Ledbetter, the Alabama grandmother who inspired the new law and stood by the president's side as he signed it.

(Soundbite of signing ceremony)

President BARACK OBAMA: Lilly Ledbetter did not set out to be a trailblazer or a household name. She was just a good hard worker who did her job and she did it well for nearly two decades before discovering that for years, she was paid less than her male colleagues for doing the very same work.

HORSLEY: Ledbetter sued the Goodyear plant where she worked, but the Supreme Court rejected her claim, ruling that workers can only sue within six months of their first unequal paycheck. The new law reverses that decision. Mr. Obama, the law professor turned politician, said justice isn't about some abstract legal theory, but about people's daily lives. A festive crowd celebrated with orange and cranberry juice in the state dining room. While it won't help Ledbetter recover more than $200,000 in lost wages, she says the legislative victory is an even richer reward.

(Soundbite of signing ceremony)

Ms. LILLY LEDBETTER (Retired Worker, Goodyear): Your daughters and your granddaughters will have a better deal. That's what makes this fight worth fighting. That's what made this fight one we had to win.

HORSLEY: As Mr. Obama signed the bill, he was surrounded by a beaming and bipartisan group of lawmakers including the first female House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who battled her own glass ceiling during the primary. Mr. Obama gave one of the ceremonial pens to Ledbetter herself saying the new law will help others get the justice she was denied. Scott Horsley, NPR News, the White House.

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