Lilly Ledbetter Has Her Day

Barack Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act of 2009 - his very first bill signed into law as President.

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Lilly Ledbetter Has Her Day

Obama signs Fair Pay Restoration Act

-Megan Southwick

Lilly Ledbetter Barack Obama

Lilly Ledbetter didn’t set out to be a trailblazer or a household name. She was just a good hard worker who did her job – and did it well – for nearly two decades before discovering that for years, she was paid less than her male colleagues for the very same work. Over the course of her career, she lost more than $200,000 in salary, and even more in pension and Social Security benefits – losses she still feels today.”

Those were Barack Obama’s words as he signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act of 2009 – his very first bill signed into law as President. Just one of the many progressive moves he’s made since taking office, the act is essential to fighting workplace discrimination, especially in a world where women still make only 78 cents to every dollar that men make.

First Lady Michelle Obama was on hand to witness the event, along with Speaker of the House Nancu Pelosi (who got a peck on the cheek from Mr. President) and a room full of civil rights workers and activists – not all of whom were Democrats. According to The New York Times, Michelle called Ms. Ledbetter “one of my favorite people.”

Lilly Ledbetter, now almost 70, brought a lawsuit against her employer of 20-some years, the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company, after discovering that she had been paid less than her male co-workers with the same job for years. She found out only after someone left an anonymous note in her locker showing her pay and that of three of her male counterparts who did the same job, but on different shifts. Though she was nearing her retirement, she filed her lawsuit under the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and the case traveled all the way to the Supreme Court. The Court ruled that because Ledbetter did not file suit within 180 days of the time her paychecks were issued, her case was basically invalid. In response to this, several Democratic members of congress introduced the Lilly Ledbetter Act, which revised the law to state that the 180-day statute of limitations for pay discrimination resets with each new discriminatory paycheck.

Just like Ledbetter, women today often never know they are the victims of pay discrimination, making it easy for employers to continue the practice. Salaries are kept confidential, and upon hiring, we all sign contracts promising not to discuss our pay with fellow employees – and certainly not with competitors!

So how do you know if you are being paid fairly?

1. Check Web sites such as, and

2. Check the want ads, and look at salary ranges for job postings similar to your own. If there is a large discrepancy between what is being posted and what you are receiving, you might need to do some digging.

3. Maintain your network. Keep in touch with people in your field: maintain high-quality, open relationships, so that you are always on the qt with what’s going on in your industry.

Don’t be afraid to do some digging, ask questions, and be assertive – ask for what you know you are worth, and take a lesson from Lilly — don’t ever back down.

Lily Ledbetter herself will not see any money as a result of this legislation, but this indomitable woman said at the ceremony:

“Goodyear will never have to pay me what it cheated me out of … In fact, I will never see a cent. But with the president’s signature today I have an even richer reward.”

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0 thoughts on “Lilly Ledbetter Has Her Day

  1. Lilly Ledbetter worked for Goodyear from 1979 until her retirement in 1998. After the supervisor she accused of discrimination died, Ledbetter sued Goodyear under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 for alleged pay discrimination.

    Ledbetter now claims that she only knew of the pay disparity because of an anonymous note in her mailbox. But in her sworn deposition, she admitted that she knew by 1992 or earlier that she was being paid less than her male peers. She complained to her supervisor about the pay differential in 1995. She had adequate notice of the facts to file a timely EEOC complaint, but she did not sue until 1998. Her lawyers even abandoned her claim under the Equal Pay Act, which was easier to prove and not time-barred. Employees could maintain a Title VII case before the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, provided that they didn’t sit on their claims like you know who.

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