Ledbetter leads the way as a trailblazer

“Lilly Ledbetter’s southern accent and blonde bob make it easy to forget that she is an equal rights activist and not just an enchanting conversationalist.Introduce the topic of fair pay and gender discrimination, and her knowledge of labor law and politics is impressive.”

Lilly Ledbetter’s southern accent and blonde bob make it easy to forget that she is an equal rights activist and not just an enchanting conversationalist.Introduce the topic of fair pay and gender discrimination, and her knowledge of labor law and politics is impressive.

It makes me feel good to know that I have made a difference for the women and the girls of this country that will come after me, said Ledbetter, who spoke at the University of Akron Student Union Theater Wednesday evening.

Ledbetter thought gender discrimination had ended, and she respected her employer, Goodyear, because she thought it treated her fairly. A note left in her locker changed that.

The anonymous note listed Ledbetter’s name and pay along with those of her four male colleagues. The four men performed the same job as Ledbetter but earned higher salaries.

In early 1998, Ledbetter filed a complaint against Goodyear. At the time of her retirement Ledbetter was receiving $3,727 per month while her four male counterparts – who all held the same position of area managers – received between $4,286 to $5,236 per month.

Goodyear later claimed Ledbetter’s poor performance was the reason for the pay discrepancy. However, Ledbetter was employed by Goodyear for 19 years and received the Top Performer award in 1996.

Ledbetter won her initial claim, and the jury awarded her a settlement of $3.8 million. Goodyear appealed, and the 11th Circuit Court threw out the case.

Ledbetter appealed that ruling, and the Supreme Court agreed to hear her case. In November 2006 the court heard arguments in Ledbetter’s case, and in May 2007 the Court issued its controversial 5-4 verdict.

The court found in favor of Goodyear and ruled against Ledbetter. The majority opinion claimed that in order for Ledbetter’s complaint to be honored, it needed to occur within 180 days of the initial pay discrimination.

The court argued that Ledbetter could have and, should have, sued when the pay decisions were made, despite the fact that she had no knowledge of the pay discrepancy at the time.

Ledbetter did, however, file her claim within 180 days of the discovery of the unequal pay.

The ruling protected the corporations, not individuals, Ledbetter said. The ruling changed the law.

The dissenting justices, led by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, challenged Congress to pass a law that would reverse the court’s ruling, and Congress immediately began developing a bill.

President Barack Obama’s first official act as president was to sign the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009.

Before the bill passed, Ledbetter traveled to Washington, D.C., twice a month for 18 months, speaking to Congress and committees and doing interviews, all in an effort to pass the bill.

Ledbetter spoke at the 2008 Democratic National Convention and is a fundraiser for senators and other proponents of the Fair Pay Act. She also travels the country and speaks primarily to university students about her case and her cause.

I never considered myself a feminist or political; it wasn’t healthy for your career to be political at a large corporation, Ledbetter said.

But I now consider myself a trailblazer.

Ledbetter’s efforts benefit more than just women who face discrimination in the workplace. After the Supreme Court ruled against her claim in May 2007, Ledbetter heard of a similar case filed by a mentally disabled man where the court cited her case as precedent.

I am not asking for a gift; I am only asking for what I earned, Ledbetter said.

Because the Supreme Court ruled against her, Ledbetter received no compensation from Goodyear, and her lower salary continues to negatively affect her retirement benefits and social security.

Politicians who opposed the bill argued that changing the law in favor of the employees will allow people to use the law as a ‘savings plan,’ but we all should be paid what we earned, Ledbetter said.

Ledbetter is currently lobbying for a new bill that she hopes will close many of the loopholes in the labor law and allow employees to discuss their pay without retaliation from their employers.

She is also working on a book that should be published this year, and there is talk of a movie in development

According to the most recent public information, the University of Akron employs 704 full-time tenure track faculty – 416 male and 288 female. The average male earns $73,843, and the average female earns $57,351.

There’s so many families across this nation in the same situation, she said. It not only affects first-line managers or store managers, but it goes all the way up to doctors, medical doctors, ladies who hold doctorates, teaching in college and paid half or a third of what their male counterparts are, and that’s not right.


” #1.1359913:8244691.JPG:P3090018.JPG:Lilly Ledbetter outside Akron’s Goodyear corporate headquarters:”