Equal pay advocate Lilly Ledbetter to speak at Tech

Pay inequality will be discussed by Lilly Ledbetter, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act namesake, at 7 p.m. Tuesday in Derryberry Hall Auditorium. The presentation, expected to last about 40 minutes, will be followed by a question and answer session and a reception. “I’m certain that students will relate to her and enjoy her, as well as learn something that will benefit them as they pursue their future careers,” Diana Lalani of the Women’s Center said.

This is a Center Stage event hosted by the Women’s Center and the communications program. It is free and open to the public.

Current figures show the average woman makes around 78 cents for every dollar her male contemporaries earn. This affects everyone, every family, every community. Families are dependent on a woman’s income now more than ever.

“College students are shocked because there are equal pay laws on the books, but they are not always adhered to,” Ledbetter said. “I can’t fault these students, as I was once so trusting.”

Brenda Wilson, communications program director, suggested bringing Ledbetter here to Lalani at the Women’s Center equal pay event two years ago. Tech is one of several institutions, including Harvard and Georgetown, to which Ledbetter has been invited.

Ledbetter worked for Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company in Gadsden, Ala. from 1979 to 1998. For most of those years, she was an overnight area manager, a position dominated by men. While her salary was comparable to her male counterparts when she began, a disparity formed and grew over the years. By the end of 1997, as the only female with her title, she was making between 15 and 40 percent less than the men in the same position.

Ledbetter learned of the disparity when an anonymous co-worker put a note into her mailbox at work that listed the pay of Ledbetter and three men in her position. Due to Goodyear’s pay confidentiality policy, which she signed, this was the first proof Ledbetter had of the pay inequality she had suspected for years.

“Goodyear acknowledged that it was paying me a lot less than men doing the same work,” Ledbetter said when speaking to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2007. “But they said it was because I was a poor performer and consequently got smaller raises than all the men who did better.”

She earned a Top Performance Award from Goodyear in 1996.

The now seventy-year-old grandmother of four spent eight years in court over the matter and was awarded around $3.3 million by the jury, which the judge reduced to the $300,000 statutory cap on punitive damages and mental anguish.

However, Goodyear appealed to the Supreme Court. They voted 5-4 against Ledbetter because she did not file her claim within 180 days of the first discriminatory paycheck.

In our view, the court does not comprehend, or is indifferent to, the insidious way in which women can be victims of pay discrimination,” said Justice Ruth Ginsburg in the dissent she read from the bench.

The dissent went on to challenge Congress to “do something about the injustice.” Congressman George Miller led the House Labor and Education Committee in meeting the challenge, creating the act.

Ledbetter said, “It would have been hard to demonstrate to the EEOC or a jury that the first $100 pay difference was discrimination. It was only after I got paid less than men again and again, without any good excuse, that I had a case that I could realistically bring to the EEOC or to court.”

The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 changed the law so that workers could sue for pay discrimination within 180 days of any discriminatory paycheck.

“The Ledbetter bill will allow redress for workers with the energy and willpower to seek redress in the courts,” Kim Gandy, National Organization for Women president, said, “but we have a long way to go before we have fair pay for women and laws with real teeth.”

Ledbetter continues to be discriminated against by Goodyear because her retirement pension is based on her income while she worked there. Ledbetter tried to drive home a point for young people when she speaks before them.

“The day you retire starts the first day you go to work.