Lilly Ledbetter and the lie that will not die

When a lie becomes an article of faith not just for a movement for an entire political party, that lie is probably here to stay. So it is with the Lilly Ledbetter lie, repeated most recently by Ruth Marcus of the Washington Post.

Ledbetter, who danced with President Obama at his first inaugural ball and has had a federal statute named after her, lost her pay discrimination case because she waited longer than legally allowed to file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC. During the proceedings, which went all the way to the Supreme Court, she never argued that she didn’t know she was being paid less than similarly situated men until it was too late to complain to the EEOC.

Ledbetter didn’t make that argument for a very good reason; it wouldn’t have been true.

Ledbetter waited until 1998 to file her discrimination charge. According to her own testimony, she knew by 1992 that her pay was out of line with her peers. And in 1995, she spoke to her supervisor about the problem, telling him “I knew definitely that they were all making a thousand at least more per month than I was and that I would like to get in line.” Hans Bader has laid all of this out.

However, once judicial proceedings were over and the penalties for perjury no longer stood in her way, Ledbetter changed her story. She claimed that she didn’t learn about the pay disparities until, shortly before she filed her charged, she received an anonymous note.

This claim cannot be reconciled with the testimony Ledbetter gave under oath. But that hasn’t stopped feminists, and indeed the Democratic Party, from building a religion around her false claim.

The Post’s Ruth Marcus is the latest offender. In an April 9 op-ed, she wrote:

Ledbetter. . .was stymied by the fact that — in part because of company policy banning the sharing of salary information — she did not know she was being paid less than male counterparts; by the time she realized and filed suit, according to the Supreme Court, the statute of limitations was up.

Unlike Obama and so many others, Marcus can’t be accused of spinning Ledbetter’s case for partisan or ideological purposes. The quoted passage is something of a throwaway line in a column that castigates Democrats for “equal-pay demagoguery.” Her misuse of Ledbetter demonstrates how deeply ingrained the Ledbetter lie has become, not dishonesty on Marcus’s part.

However, I understand that after Marcus’s column appeared online, Hans Bader pointed out her error. Nonetheless, her column made its way into the print edition with the same misstatement of fact.

Since then, Bader and at least one other knowledgeable lawyer have written separate letters to the editor pointing out Marcus’ error. Will the Post publish them or is Ledbetter’s lie too good to challenge?

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