Lilly Ledbetter, the woman behind the employment discrimination case Ledbetter vs. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., will visit the area this week as part of the Women’s Foundation of Greater St. Louis’ Making a Difference 2015. On Tuesday, she spoke with “St. Louis on the Air” host Don Marsh about her women’s rights activism following the discovery that she was only paid $3,727 per month compared to 15 other men in similar positions at Goodyear Tire who earned from $4,286 to $5,236 per month.
Ultimately, Ledbetter lost a U.S. Supreme Court gender discrimination case over the matter of unequal pay and retirement benefits, due to the statute of limitations on discrimination claims. However, in 2009, President Barack Obama made the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act the first piece of legislation he signed into law, erasing the statute of limitations on discriminatory paychecks.
"I never got a dime, never got a penny, and never will get any," said Ledbetter of her case. "Exactly what I have today is exactly what I earned. The retirement is based on what I earned. The social security is based on what I earned. I've already exhausted my 401K, so I continue to try to live within my means.
"But there are so many women like myself that we outlive our spouses by 10 years and we become dependent on our children. That's not right. This country is smarter. We have the resources, we have the education. We should not have these circumstances in this country."
Ledbetter will be in the area on Thursday for an event that the Women's Foundation of Greater St. Louis is putting on to highlight work being doing to promote women in St. Louis. Information on the event can be found here.
Here's a little bit more history of how Ledbetter's case unfolded in the courts:
Ledbetter worked at Goodyear Tire as an area manager in Gadsden, Alabama. She was one of the first women hired in an upper management role at the company. While she started out her employment at the same salary as her male counterparts, by her retirement she was only paid $3,727 per month compared to 15 other men who earned from $4,286 to $5,236. She only realized this when an anonymous note was left in her mailbox alerting her to the fact, Goodyear had not made salaries public.
Ledbetter filed charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, including an Equal Pay Act claim and a Title VII employment discrimination claim. In November of 1998, Ledbetter retired early and sued Goodyear for sex discrimination. The District Court awarded her back pay as well as damages in the amount of $3.5 million for her time employed at Goodyear.
Goodyear appealed the ruling, saying that her claim to those damages ran out with the 180 day statute of limitations on discrimination claims. The Supreme Court of the United States ruled that employers can’t be sued over Title VII if the claims are based on decisions made by employers over 180 days prior.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote the dissent on the case, representing three other justices, stating:
"In our view, the court does not comprehend, or is indifferent to, the insidious way in which women can be victims of pay discrimination.”
President Barack Obama makes the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act his first piece of official legislation upon taking office. The law now guarantees that employees can sue up to 180 days after receiving any discriminatory paycheck.
Lilly Ledbetter gives an impassioned speech to the Democratic National Convention about equal pay for women.
Ledbetter publishes her memoir of the Ledbetter vs. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. case entitled, "Grace and Grit: My Fight for Equal Pay and Fairness at Goodyear and Beyond."
"St. Louis on the Air" discusses issues and concerns facing the St. Louis area. The show is produced by Mary Edwards, Alex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt and hosted by veteran journalist Don Marsh. Follow us on Twitter and join the conversation at @STLonAir.