Not only is it Career Month on BBL, but March 8th is International Women’s Day. To celebrate, we’re shining the spotlight on an American civil rights hero: Lilly Ledbetter.
In her memoir Grace and Grit, we learn about Lilly’s childhood growing up in poverty in Possum Trot, Alabama. Born into a home with no electricity or running water, she knew she was destined for better things. Through dedication to her education and a lot of hard work, Lilly eventually landed her dream job in a management role at Goodyear Tires, one of the first women ever hired for the position.
Lilly’s dream job quickly became a nightmare of daily sexual harassment, from a boss who threatened her with a negative review if she didn’t go to bed with him to physical intimidation on the factory floor. Nonetheless, Lilly persevered, believing she was blazing a trail for all the women who would come after her and knowing she was bringing home an important paycheck for her husband and children.
Nineteen years after Lilly started at Goodyear, an anonymous note informed her she was making thousands of dollars less per year than men in her identical position – men who, in some cases, had worked there for less time, were less qualified and had fewer positive reviews. Lilly was shocked and devastated but she decided to fight for what was rightfully hers, filing a sex discrimination case against Goodyear that would last for the next decade.
After a win and a heartbreaking loss on appeal, Lilly’s case made it all the way to the Supreme Court. There she lost in a 5-4 decision that said Lilly had waited too long to take action: the Court said she should have filed a complaint after her very first discriminatory paycheck; never mind that Lilly had filed a claim as soon as she discovered she was being paid unfairly. In a landmark moment, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg read her dissent from the bench, urging Lilly to continue her fight and change the employment discrimination law.
Lilly did, battling for another two years until President Barack Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act in 2009, his first piece of official legislation as president. This act declared that employees had the right to file a pay discrimination claim up to 180 days after every discriminatory paycheck. Lilly’s battle for equal pay resulted in a victory for employees and their families all over the country at today, at age 73, she continues to be an active advocate for equality in the workplace.
Watch Lilly Ledbetter discussing the signing of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act, video courtesy of Obama for America: