Opportunity

Lilly Ledbetter and the Fight for Equal Pay

For 10 years, Ledbetter has fought to close the gap between women’s and men’s wages. Hear from her in her own words.


It began with a mysterious note as she was approaching retirement in 1998.

The note said that despite being named a Top Performer in 1996 and 19 years of dedicated work at Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, Lilly Ledbetter had been making far less — 40 percent less — than the men doing the same job.

“It was so devastating … so humiliating. I don't think I ever had a lower feeling in my whole life," she said. “All my retirement, savings, everything I had tried to do for my future was short-changed."

So she decided to fight. For 10 years, Ledbetter fought to close the gap between women's and men's wages, sparring with the U.S. Supreme Court in a historic discrimination case against Goodyear and lobbying Capitol Hill.

Ledbetter ultimately lost her discrimination suit because she missed the statute of limitations (then, only 180 days from her first unequal paycheck) to file. But she did succeed in getting legislation passed that ensures other women would not have to deal with the same inequities.

In 2009, President Barack Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, revising previous legislation so employees can sue up to 180 days after receiving any discriminatory paycheck. In the seven years since President Obama signed that historic legislation, Ledbetter is still speaking up for equal-pay rights. Writing about her namesake legislation for USA Today, Ledbetter encouraged Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, which she says updates and strengthens the country's equal-pay laws. 

"...the workplace and many public policies still haven't caught up with today's America. It's time that finally changed," Ledbetter said.

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