Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

March 2, 2010


Host: Ted Simons

Lilly Ledbetter - Fair Pay Advocate


  • Her U.S. Supreme Court case on pay equity was the inspiration behind the Lilly Ledbetter Pay Equity Act of 2009, the first major legislation signed by President Obama. Lilly Ledbetter sued her former employer, Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, for pay discrimination. Hear what she has to say about her case and what she’s doing to get Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act.
Guests:
  • Lilly Ledbetter - Fair Pay Advocate
Category: Legislature   |   Keywords: wages, money,

View Transcript
Ted Simons:
Good evening and welcome to "Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. After 19 years as manager for Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company, Lilly Ledbetter found out she'd been earning far less than male colleagues doing the same job. She sued and won. But ultimately, lot her case in the U.S. Supreme Court. However, she continued fighting. And in 2009, the Lilly Ledbetter fair pay act was the first law signed by President Barack Obama. Now, Ledbetter wants congress to strengthen fair wage laws by passing the paycheck fairness act. I spoke with Ledbetter last week when she was in Arizona at the request of the Scottsdale chapter of the American Association of University Women. Thank you for joining us tonight on "Horizon."

Lilly Ledbetter:
Thank you, Ted, for having me. I appreciate the opportunity.

Ted Simons:
We wanted you on because your case is fascinating and where it's taken you is fascinating as well. Let's start with the case that got you so much attention and brought so much attention to your important cause. Talk to us about it.

Lilly Ledbetter:
Just in a short story, I worked for Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company for 19 years before learning how much less I was being paid doing the exact same job that the men were doing and someone slipped me a tip, showing my pay versus three men and I filed a charge with the equal employment commission and got a lawyer and filed a charge in 1998. Got an attorney in 1999 and got into federal court in my home county in Alabama in 2003. The jury came back with a Verdict of $3.8 million. But immediately, the judge had to reduce that $3 million down to a $300,000. Because that's the cap. And it was because I worked for a major employer, otherwise I could have gotten only a $50,000 award. And in back pay, an individual, even though I had 19 years proven being shortchanged, I could only go back two years on equal pay. So they took the lowest paid person and gave me $30,000 per year, so I left the courtroom that Friday with a $360,000 award from the jury that I was entitled to under the law.

Ted Simons:
And yet, the Supreme Court -- it gets all the way there and the Supreme Court decides -- what? -- That you didn't make the claim early enough?

Lilly Ledbetter:
Yes, they said, Justice Alito, who wrote the response, said I should have file aid response each time I got a raise or when I first hired in. Even though I didn't know that I was being under-paid for the same work and even though I had no way to prove it.

Ted Simons:
I thought -- I need to stop you there, because that doesn't seem from a distance to make a heck of a lot of sense of sense. You're being penalized for something you didn't know.

Lilly Ledbetter:
That's right and the law was on my side. All of the cases previous to the Ledbetter v. Goodyear had been ruled in favor of the plaintiff. There’s been a base case just prior to mine in favor. And this was the first time that the Supreme Court said no. And ruled 5-4. But Justice Ginsburg said she don't understand what it's like in the world. People don't stand around water coolers discussing their pay. And even if they learn they were making less, it's not proved its discrimination.

Ted Simons:
You said someone slipped you a note.

Lilly Ledbetter:
19 years in.

Ted Simons:
What were your first thoughts?

Lilly Ledbetter:
How much money I lost in my overtime and second thoughts how much I had lost in my retirement. You see, Ted, my retirement at Goodyear was based on salary. My contributory salary was a percentage matched by Goodyear and 401(k) was 10% matched by Goodyear stock and when I signed up for social security that also was dependent on my earnings while working.

Ted Simons:
And the Supreme Court is not arguing much of that. Just saying you really should have known because -- why? Why would you have known?

Lilly Ledbetter:
I wouldn't, I didn't. And they said I should have filed my charge way back in the early years even though I didn't know. And I didn't have any way to prove it. And I really thought that I would have been compensated in the ballpark of what my male peers would have been. I was so devastated, so humiliated in learning that. And when you worked at Goodyear, they told me upon hiring in, you do not discuss your pay or you will not work here.

Ted Simons:
You find this out. You go to court; you win of the Supreme Court takes that win away. Now it's time to go to congress. First few attempts does not sound it went well. What happened then? What changed? How it the Lilly Ledbetter law come into effect?

Lilly Ledbetter:
Basically, the voting in '08 in the election of a new president helped change the climate somewhat. But we also, we only came up three votes short in the senate the first go around, it passed the house both times and then we came three votes first the first go around, the second senate passed it, and then the president, when President Obama was sworn in, this was the first bill. Not only was it such a tribute and an honor for this bill to be named for me, but for it to be the first bill of his administration.

Ted Simons:
Indeed, he said he had to practice signing his name because he want used to it yet. Brand new on the job. How did it feel? This is kind of a lighter question, but I want to know. You're up there and the president is signing a bill with your name on it. How did it feel?

Lilly Ledbetter:
I'll tell you, it was the most glorious feeling. My son and daughter-in-law and three grandsons were sitting in the front row with Mrs. Obama and all of the women in the organizations that had supported the bill had emailed, called and lobbied for the Ledbetter act to be passed, were standing in that White House and many of those women's groups said that's the first time they had been there in eight years, and I was there without my husband, because I had lost him to cancer in December of the previous year. And -- but I knew he was looking down because he knew we would get that bill passed and it would become law.

Ted Simons:
And it did, and the Ledbetter act did become law. But now you're back out there, because it sounds like, you've got the paycheck fairness act you're pushing. Soundings -- sounds like more needs to be done. What happened here?

Lilly Ledbetter:
The Ledbetter bill only the put the law back to where it was prior to the ruling in my case in May of '07. Exactly the same as it was before. Now we need the paycheck fairness and that's been in the works for quite some time. It actually passed the house with more votes than the Ledbetter act and needs to be voted in and signed into law to help employees, women and minorities, especially, to protect themselves and to learn about their wages and to be able to talk to coworkers about their pay and be protected from retaliation from their employer. And it will also, I believe, benefit corporations and employers because it will energize the people to do better work and strive to be promoted and earn more and achieve what their coworkers are doing.

Ted Simons:
What exactly does it do that the law right now does not require?

Lilly Ledbetter:
The law right now will not allow you to discuss your pay if your employer tells you can't, and without retaliation -- and can be retaliated against. And you cannot really ask your employer either because there's nothing that tells you that you've got that right to do that. This bill would do that it would provide an opportunity that an individual can seek out that information they need. Had that been the law before my case came up, it would have helped me because I learned in discovery, there were many years when the rates changed on my job, I was paid below of minimum. This way, I could have found out and could have discussed it with my employer and hopefully, I wouldn't be shortchanged like I am today in my retirement.

Ted Simons:
Last question: You were short-changed a lot.

Lilly Ledbetter:
A lot.

Ted Simons:
And you told us how much and in what depth and the context. Even so, you are out there and you're a symbol and people look up to you and young women, especially, see in you a role model and hope and encouragement. I'm not going to ask was it worth it. That's not a fair question. But -- was it worth it?

Lilly Ledbetter:
Yes, sir, it's worth it and you know what, I'd do it again. And my husband and I balanced his cancers, he had four in the last two years and we battled the medical problems along with it but he stood beside me and encouraged me. The day he died, I had been to New York to do the "20/20" segment and I returned home and found him deceased but it was so worth it for our daughter and granddaughter and women out there working today. I stood up for myself at first but in the end, stood up for all the women and girls across the country.

Ted Simons:
Congratulations. It's a pleasure having you on the show.

Lilly Ledbetter:
Thank you for having me. Again, I'm so grateful.

Ted Simons:
Thank you. During her recent visit to Arizona, Ledbetter spoke at a rally outside the state capitol, sponsored by the "she counts" coalition. Producer David Majure and photographer Scott Olson were there.

[Applause]

Lilly Ledbetter:
Thank you. Thank you. I'm so happy to be here in Arizona. I've been on my rampage for 12 years because I've got a story that I could not back down with when I learned how much I had been discriminated against for 20 years, of doing the same job that white males were doing.

David Majure:
Lilly Ledbetter shared her story of wage discrimination at the second annual "she counts" rally at the legislature.

Lilly Ledbetter:
It's embarrassing you're working for a major corporation in this country and they don't pay women what they're supposed to be paid. I was devastated.

David Majure:
Her devastation became determination to change our nation's fair wage law.

Lilly Ledbetter:
You've got to have a system where you can get back what you have, what you've lost, or at least a little bit, and equal pay and an individual is only entitled to two years. That's it. I don't care if you worked 50 years and filed a charge. Two years is as far back as you can go. That's not right.

David Majure:
That was a common refrain as the group examined other ways women are hurt by the recession and state budget cuts.

Speaker:
When I say she, you say counts. She.

Audience:
Counts!

Speaker:
She.

Audience:
Counts!

Jodi Liggett:
And S.H.E. stands for economic security for women and we're concerned about the cuts made in the two fiscal years by the legislature and it's affecting the safety net that protects vulnerable women and families and we're concerned about all vulnerable citizens, but feel in particular women have been particularly impacted.

Allie Bones:
Where victims have a job or own their home, they're reluctant to leave because doing so may mean they may lose one or both and housing and jobs are not readily available.

Natalie Young Williams:
Today we rally because the health of women is under direct threat. Our communities of color are being left behind. Arizona is ranked 14th overall for maternal and child health. But 33% of Hispanic women get no prenatal care and the infant mortality rate for African infants is 18.2%. Our ranking for health insurance coverage for women is dismal. At 42nd, worst in the country. And this is before the recent downturn of budget cuts.

Marie Sullivan:
The economic status of women tied to worth is connected to their well-being. Today, women in Arizona are more likely to be unemployed, have a subprime mortgage, face foreclosure and file for bankruptcy. So given all of those economic conditions, we're losing ground, not gaining and that's a big concern for me.

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