Mona Charen

"Romney Camp Stumbles on Pay Equity Question" crowed The New York Times last week. "The Caucus" blog was referring to a conference call in which Romney top aides "seemed uncertain" about how to respond to a question about whether the former governor supported the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.

The aide's reply, "We'll get back to you on that," marked a "fumble" the Times ruled, that is "not likely to help (Romney's) case" in attracting women voters. Please.

Notice that support for the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the first legislation President Obama signed in 2009, is now equated with support for women's equal pay. Thus do liberals constantly ratchet the country in a leftward direction, declaring every piece of legislation sacrosanct and daring conservatives to contradict them.

Romney should accept the invitation. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act is a terrible law that arguably diminishes opportunities for women.

The Times and surrogates for Obama (but I repeat myself) invoke the Ledbetter Act as if it marked some sort of milestone in anti-discrimination law. Hardly. Congress outlawed sex discrimination in wages nearly a half century ago with the Equal Pay Act of 1963, and then expanded those protections with Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, and the 1991 amendments to the Civil Rights Act.

Lilly Ledbetter was an employee of Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. who waited more than five years after discovering a pay disparity with her male co-workers to file a claim under the Civil Rights Act. The law had a 300-day time limit (180 days in some states) for filing claims. The Supreme Court ruled that Ledbetter had waited too long. The act that bears her name resets the 180 day time limit with each new pay check so that employees claiming discrimination can wait years or even decades to file claims.

In Ledbetter's case, the executive accused of discrimination had died by the time her case was brought. This Obama-era law is an invitation to litigation and requires extensive and onerous record keeping by employers to guard against lawsuits. As Stuart Taylor reported in the National Journal, a federal magistrate judge had found that Ledbetter received consistently poor evaluations. It's possible that this, and not sex discrimination, accounted for her lower pay. But in any case, when years have passed, memories have faded, and principals have died, it becomes nearly impossible to ferret out the truth -- which is why most laws have time limits in the first place. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act isn't really for women at all but for another key Democratic constituency -- trial lawyers.

Mona Charen

Mona Charen is a syndicated columnist, political analyst and author of Do-Gooders: How Liberals Hurt Those They Claim to Help .
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