The other night, I was able to attend a lecture by Lilly Ledbetter, the activist who sued her former employer, Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co., after she discovered that her male counterparts were making more money than she did for doing the same exact job. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it ever since.
Ledbetter shared her story, all the way from when she discovered via an anonymous note that she was being underpaid to her trip to the Supreme Court. I was familiar with her, and I knew that the first bill that President Barack Obama signed during his first term was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. I was glad to hear straight from Ledbetter her story, her thoughts, and her feelings. She didn’t hold back, and told us how disappointed she was by certain Supreme Court justices (take a wild guess which ones). Ledbetter also shared which stores she won’t shop at due to their unfair pay practices (she joked that she wouldn’t really name names, since she’d been in court enough already).
She shared anecdotes about Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who she corresponds with about once a month, as well as an NBC news crew that asked her to pretend to make a cake for B-roll footage in a piece they were producing on her. “You want me to pretend to bake a cake?” she exclaimed. “I don’t think so!” She also mentioned that while trying to get what turned into the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act passed, she was talked down to by members of Congress and made to feel like she was a woman who needed to be put in her place. She handled it all with grace, even though she was also dealing with her husband fighting against cancer. While he was alive to see Obama win the presidency (it was the first time he had ever voted for a Democrat), he died before the bill was signed.
I came away with a very favorable impression of Ledbetter. First, she was beyond brave to fight a giant corporation like Goodyear. You need to have nerves of steel to go up against a company like that, as well as patience and a lot of money (which she didn’t have; the deal was on a contingency where if she won, the firm got half). She also has a thick skin; she shared that people attempted to smear her name, stating that she wasn’t a very good employee (which leads to the question, why did you keep her there for 19 years if she wasn’t that great?) and was lying about not knowing what others were paid.
I also came away with more anger towards pay inequality and the failed logic that caused the Supreme Court to decide 5-4 against Ledbetter (the majority argued that although she had no clue she wasn’t making as much as the men, and she couldn’t have known because Goodyear demanded that they keep their wages to themselves, she should have somehow known all this and filed a motion years earlier). I’ve always known that women don’t make as much money as men, and it’s never sat well with me (and it shouldn’t with anyone). But as I watch the rich get richer and the poor get squeezed and drained, I can’t sit by and let it happen. Women should not be making 77 cents to every dollar that a man makes; it’s even worse for black women, who earn 62 cents, and Hispanic women, who make just 54 freaking cents. We need to have better-paying positions, period.
Want to help enact change? Ledbetter said to keep your eyes on Washington, so you can see how our representatives and senators are voting on key bills. She stressed that with enough people, change can happen, and also that despite what you may think, your vote does count. She was thrilled when her bill was sponsored and co-sponsored by Republicans and Democrats, and feels that our country will get back to working together one day. While she remains far more optimistic than I do in those regards, I hope she’s right.
Will you reach out to your representatives and tell them your feelings on pay equality? Have you experienced a similar experience to Ledbetter’s?