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Lilly Ledbetter: In Her Own Words

Lilly spoke out about her
experiences at NWLC's awards
dinner in November 2007.

I’m a former employee of Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company. For close to two decades, I was paid less than my male co-workers even though I was doing the same work they were, and doing it well. The company kept the discrimination quiet and I didn't know about the pay gap until I got an anonymous note about it near the end of my time there. Seeking to rectify this injustice, I first filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and then brought Goodyear to court.

A jury found that Goodyear had discriminated and awarded me more than $3 million in damages. But Goodyear appealed my case all the way to the Supreme Court and got a reversal of the jury verdict by one vote. The Court said I should have filed my complaint within six months of the original act of discrimination even though at the time I didn't know the discrimination was happening, let alone have enough evidence to complain.

My case set a new and dangerous precedent. According to the Court, if pay discrimination wasn’t challenged within six months, a company could pay a woman less than a man for the rest of the woman's career. I worry that the Supreme Court will permit other forms of discrimination in the future.

Fortunately, Congress passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act to tell the Supreme Court it got it wrong in my case. President Obama signed the bill into law on January 29, 2009, to give all employees a better shot at a fair workplace, making it easier to ensure justice for those who have been paid less based on sex, race, ethnicity, religion, disability, and age.

My court case is over. The Supreme Court has decided. I was never compensated for the lower wages I received and now my pension and Social Security payments are less than they should be because Goodyear paid me less. But my fight is not over. I will continue to fight for other pieces of pay equity legislation because we must restore and improve anti-discrimination protections for others so that our daughters and granddaughters have a chance for a better future.

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