MAKERS Profile

Lilly Ledbetter

Activist

In this video

June 2013 marks the 50th anniversary of the 1963 Equal Pay Act.  Since the passing of the act, there still remains a huge gender wage gap that Lilly Ledbetter's efforts have helped take measures to close. Ledbetter shares the story of her battle to achieve equal pay for women nationwide.
Lilly Ledbetter worked as an area manager at Goodyear plant in Gadsden, Alabama for nineteen years. Her crusade to remedy the gender-based pay discrimination that she suffered during that time received national attention, and her activism led to the passage of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in 2009.   Ledbetter grew up in rural Alabama and began working in her grandfather’s cotton fields while she was a teenager. She married Sergeant Major Charles Ledbetter and had two children. In 1979, she took a job as an overnight shift manager and area manager at the local Goodyear plant.   As part of her contract, Ledbetter was forbidden to discuss the details of her pay with other employees. As she approached retirement in 1998, however, an anonymous tipster alerted her to an alarming fact: despite receiving a “Top Performer” award in 1996, she had been making far less than her male colleagues for the entirety of her employment at Goodyear.   Outraged, Ledbetter made a formal complaint against Goodyear with the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission. After the company tried to discipline her by assigning her to manual labor, Ledbetter filed a discrimination suit and was awarded approximately $3.3 million in damages (later reduced to $360,000 because of a law limiting a company's liability for damages.)   Goodyear, however, appealed and the case ended up in the Supreme Court, which ruled 5-4 in favor of the tire-maker, saying that Ledbetter had missed the statute of limitations (then, only 180 days from her first unequal paycheck) to file a discrimination suit.   Although she never received any compensation for the discrimination she faced, Ledbetter fought to pass legislation ensuring that other women would not have to deal with the same inequities she had. In 2009, President Barack Obama made the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act the first piece of official legislation that he signed upon taking office. The bill revises previous legislation and states that the 180-day statute of limitations resets with each new paycheck affected by discriminatory action, giving plaintiffs more time to file their claims.

More From Lilly

Back to Work After Kids
Ledbetter recalls how her young children were instrumental in her decision to go back to work. 

Mustering the Strength
Ledbetter expands on the moment she found out she was underpaid and how she wanted to hide.

Husband's Endless Support
Ledbetter remembers how supportive her husband was in her many year legal battle, and its sad coincidence with the end of his life.

Others Who Came Forward
Ledbetter on how two female witnesses sealed the case for wage discrimination at Goodyear.

The Ripple Effect of Unequal Pay
Ledbetter illustrates how an unequal salary has a far-reaching impact on your future.

A Reduced Verdict
Ledbetter explains why a $3 million verdict in her favor was reduced to $300,000.

Struck a Nerve
Ledbetter on the outpouring of support she received when her wage discrimination case was decided in her favor. 

Sexual Harassment from the Boss
Ledbetter talks about her boss's relentless harassment, why she endured it, and the day he went too far. 

77 Cents to the Dollar
Ledbetter points out that, despite changes in law, women still have a long way to go to achieve equal pay. 

How Wage Discrimination Continues
Ledbetter confronts how the strategy used to keep her underpaid is still being used against young women today. 

Living a Feminist Life
Ledbetter on why she didn't need to join a group to be a feminist.

Opening Doors
Ledbetter explains what kept her going at work, despite harassment and her male colleagues rooting against her.