For more than a decade, Lilly Ledbetter fought to achieve pay equity.
It was in Alabama, where Ledbetter was born and raised, that she began a crusade that would eventually lead her all the way to the nation’s capital.
In 1979, Ledbetter took a job at the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company in Gadsen, Alabama. Although she was the only woman in her position as an overnight supervisor, Ledbetter began her career earning the same salary as her male colleagues. By the end of her career, however, Lilly was earning less than any of the men in the same position.
Although she signed a contract with her employer that she would not discuss pay rates, just before Ledbetter’s retirement an anonymous individual slipped a note into her mailbox listing the salaries of the men performing the same job. In spite of the fact that Ledbetter had received a Top Performance Award from the company, she discovered that she had been paid considerably less than her male counterparts.
Ledbetter filed a formal complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and later initiated a lawsuit alleging pay discrimination. After filing her complaint with the EEOC, Ledbetter, then in her 60s, was reassigned to such duties as lifting heavy tires. The formal lawsuit claimed pay discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Equal Pay Act of 1963.
Although a jury initially awarded her compensation, Goodyear appealed the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. In 2007, the Supreme Court ruled on the Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. case. In a 5-4 decision, the court determined that employers cannot be sued under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act if the claims are based on decisions made by the employer 180 days ago or more. Due to the fact that Ledbetter’s claim regarding her discriminatory pay was filed outside of that time frame, she was not entitled to receive any monetary award.
Since that decision, Ledbetter has lobbied tirelessly for equal pay for men and women. Her efforts finally proved successful when President Barack Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act into law on January 29, 2009.
Ledbetter said of her continuous and persistent efforts, “I told my pastor when I die, I want him to be able to say at my funeral that I made a difference.”