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Lilly Ledbetter Comes to AU

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at American chapter.

We at Her Campus American had the pleasure of co-sponsoring the Kennedy Political Union’s event to bring Lilly Ledbetter to campus.  Lilly Ledbetter is an Alabama native who is known in the United States as the woman behind the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009—the first piece of legislation President Obama signed as President of the United States.

Ledbetter was met by a large applause as she entered the MGC University Club last Tuesday. She spoke to students about her experience as a woman in the workplace and the discrimination she faced. Like most women in the sixties and seventies, Ledbetter was unaware that her employer, Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company, was paying her less than her male co-workers. Ledbetter received an anonymous letter one day explaining to her that she was not being paid fairly. Ledbetter decided to retire from Goodyear in 1998 and sue the company for gender discrimination and unequal pay. After nine long and expensive years fighting for her case, her argument finally reached the Supreme Court of the United States. Although the Supreme Court Justices found Ledbetter to be a victim of unfair pay, they ruled that Goodyear could not be sued because Ledbetter filed the complaint more than 180 days after her first paycheck. Eventually in 2009 President Obama signed into law the Fair Pay Act of 2009, amending the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and stating that the 180 day limit “resets with each new paycheck affected by that discriminatory action.”

Lilly Ledbetter provided the audience with several words of wisdom, advice, and encouragement. Here are her major messages:

1. Everyone has a story to tell. Even if you don’t think your story is important or unique, tell it.

Ledbetter was only a few months away from retiring from Goodyear when she learned she was being discriminated against. She could have ignored the anonymous note, but instead she leaned in and publically criticized her employer. “My story is not unique,” said Ledbetter, “I’m not special. But when I’m done wrong and I’ve done injustice I just can’t let it slide.” Ledbetter never gave up in her nine-year fight despite the high costs of bringing a case to court. She didn’t think her story was particularly unique or significant, but by standing up to injustice she exposed a nation-wide problem and her efforts have helped women better negotiate pay in the workforce.

2. Stand up against sexual harassment and gender discrimination.

Times magazine reported that Ledbetter faced daily sexual harassment and discrimination during her two-decade career at Goodyear. In 2007 she testified before Congress, saying one of her supervisors had promised her strong performance evaluations if she gave him sexual favors. Ledbetter is a strong role model for women of all ages in the workforce. Women should never have to face discrimination or feel unworthy at work, and it is important to take a stand against it.

3. Don’t be afraid to negotiate pay.

Ledbetter may have learned too late in her career that she wasn’t being paid equally, but that never stopped her from refusing to settle for less than she deserved. Initially Goodyear offered to settle the case for $10,000. Ledbetter responded “no way.” Ledbetter countered their offer and said she would not settle for anything less than $60,000, which was the cost of two months pay for the lowest paid male at the company.

4. Never give up and always believe in what you are fighting for.

In 2003, the courts threw out Ledbetter’s case. Finally in 2006, the Supreme Court agreed to hear her case. By then Ledbetter’s husband was battling cancer, but he encouraged her to bring the case to the Supreme Court in attempt to receive justice. Her husband died in December of 2008, one month before President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. “You always have to have hope. You still have to believe… you need family support,” expressed Ledbetter.


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Emma is a sophomore at American University, majoring in Journalism and minoring in Political Science and Women's Studies. She loves to write, journal, and blog in her free time. Emma is a Communications Intern at the Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE), a non-profit in DC. She is a social media editor for Her Campus American.