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Lilly Ledbetter says journey for equal pay was worth fight

2:08 PM, Mar 10, 2010   |    comments
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Ledbetter was one of Goodyear's first women managers and served 19 years in one of the Akron-based company's plants in Alabama.

Shortly before retiring, Ledbetter learned that she'd been paid less -- as much as $1,500 per month less -- than her male counterparts for years.

"Some years I got raises, and some years I didn't," she said. "I had no way of knowing whether or not those raises were compatible to what my male counterparts were getting. What I discovered, after 19 years, was how much less I had been compensated for doing the exact same job."

Ledbetter won a $3 million federal lawsuit against Goodyear, but the settlement was reduced to $60,000 because the law only holds companies accountable for the most recent two years of wages.

Her pension, 401K, and social security payouts are also smaller because she received less during her working years.

"I really felt devastated," she said. "I felt humiliation because I had taken such pride in hiring in and working for this big corporation."

Ledbetter's case eventually reached the Supreme Court and led her to testify before Congress. Eventually, legislators drafted the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which President Obama signed nine days after he took office.

"There's just no words to describe what that means," she said. "And I will never get any compensation from it. I will never gain anything. My retirement stays the same, but it makes feel good to know that I have made a difference for the women and the girls of this country that will come after me."

A book about her journey is due out within the next year and a movie will soon follow. Ledbetter said it's important for other women to take note of her struggle because pay discrimination is still taking place.

"There's so many families across this nation in the same situation," she said. "It not only affects first-line managers or store managers, but it goes all the way up to doctors, medical doctors, ladies who hold doctorates, teaching in college and paid half or a third of what their male counterparts are and that's not right."

Ledbetter will speak Wednesday evening at the University of Akron.


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