Saturday, July 19, 2008

Woman of Courage Lilly Ledbetter

One of the things I've always enjoyed about being involved with NOW is the opportunity to meet courageous women who are working to make a difference for all of us. One of those women is Lilly Ledbetter.

For 19 years Lilly worked at a Goodyear Tire & Rubber production plant in Alabama. She was hired as a supervisor in 1979, received excellent employment evaluations over the years and was even selected to take on a special task for the company.

When she discovered that men doing her same job were earning much more, some as much as 40% more, she took her employer to court. A jury agreed that she was paid unfairly, and awarded her $223,776 in back pay, and more than $3 million in punitive damages, but a judge cut that to only $300,000 because of a 1991 law that limits a company's liability for damages.

Goodyear took the case to the Supreme Court, which ruled 5-4 against her, taking away every cent of the damages and back pay. In a decision written by Bush nominee Justice Samuel Alito, the Court told Ledbetter that she should have filed a complaint of pay discrimination within 180 days of her first unfair paycheck, even though she had no knowledge of the disparity.

Lilly Ledbetter may never recover the pay she rightly earned. But federal legislation has been introduced in her name in an effort to restore the true intention of Title VII of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, and protect other women from wage discrimination.

The House has passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, but the bill fell four votes short in the Senate. Republicans, who have used the filibuster at an alarming rate (up more than 150%) blocked the bill from even coming to the floor for consideration.

Ledbetter said she was surprised to receive a personal call from Sen. Hillary Clinton when the Supreme Court decision was announced. Both Sen. Clinton and Sen. Obama interrupted their campaigning last April to fly back to Washington for the Senate vote.

NOW presented Ledbetter a Woman of Courage award today, and she truly deserves it. She not only stood up to Goodyear, but to family and friends who thought she should just leave well enough alone.

But the question remains: Why should women settle for less than what men are paid? And as I have said before, when women are paid less than men EVERYONE suffers. The additional $223,776 in back pay Lilly EARNED could have paid off a mortgage, paid college tuition, or could have been invested to insure her retirement.

When women are discriminated against, everyone in the family suffers.

Lilly Ledbetter will probably never recover the pay she rightly earned, but the federal legislation in her name could restore the true intention of Title VII of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 -- and protect other women from wage discrimination.

We must make this a priority of our new Congress ... and president.

1 comment:

FranIAm said...

This is a great post on an important story.

Pay equity remains a huge issue and one that can not be forgotten.

It makes me so angry every time I read about the Supreme Court decision on this. I am fuming.