Lilly Ledbetter worked for Akron-based Goodyear for more than 20 years when she discovered she was paid significantly less than her male counterparts. She filed a lawsuit under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and won. She was awarded back pay and other remedies in a jury trial.
Of course, the company appealed; they appealed all the way to the United States Supreme Court. In a hard to believe decision, the court ruled that Ledbetter had to file her suit within 180 days of when the pay discrimination began, not within 180 days of when she found out she had received less pay. So she lost her back pay.
That law was changed yesterday. After a hard-fought battle in the Senate, with our Senator Voinivich voting NO, Congress voted to change the law. Yesterday President Barack Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. People– including women– are now permitted to file a claim for paycheck discrimination whenever they learn of it.
Statistics on women in the workplace speak to the need for action. American Association of University Women research shows that the average women earns 78 cents for every dollar a man earns, and that this wage gap begins just one year out of college and continues throughout a woman’s life. The wage gap not only affects a woman’s paycheck. It affects her ability to provide for her family and her retirement.
This case and subsequent legislation serves as a message to us all that the fight for equality is not over for women and minorities. Too often we think the work of the ’60s and ’70s is completed. But obviously it isn’t.
So if you are a young woman and find out you are making the same as the men in your job, don’t think, “See, I knew all that feminist stuff was bull.” Instead, thank women who have been fighting these battles for more than 40 years and every once in a while achieve a victory.
And, join them.
Ledbetter, having lost in the United States Supreme Court, will receive no financial benefit from the bill that bears her name. But you might!
For more information on pay equity visit www.aauw.org.