Access to Justice event draws Lilly Ledbetter

Public face of pay disparity talks to 600 in Maumee

5/1/2014
BY MARK ZABORNEY
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Ledbetter
Ledbetter

Lilly Ledbetter soldiers on, nearly eight years after the U.S. Supreme Court said she had no right to claim pay discrimination and seven years after a remedy bearing her name became law.

“I want to make sure that what happened to me doesn’t happen to other American families,” Ms. Ledbetter said Wednesday night to nearly 600 at the Pinnacle banquet hall in Maumee for the annual Access to Justice dinner.

Ms. Ledbetter in 2007 became pay disparity’s public face, courtesy of the high-court decision.

She was a supervisor with Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. in Gadsden, Ala., when, after years on the job, she received an anonymous note saying her pay was significantly less than men’s in similar positions.

Through 19 years on the job, she’d received top performance awards and occasional raises.

“I still didn’t know if it was what I should get,” Ms. Ledbetter said.

The company had forbidden employee discussion of pay.

When she learned she was making thousands of dollars less each month — she still doesn’t know who left her the note — she knew that difference left her less able to provide for her family over her career.

“When you’re talking about a woman’s equal pay, you’re talking about a family,” Ms. Ledbetter said. “It’s not just a women’s issue.”

She retired in 1998 and, with her late husband’s support, fought and won in federal district court, though Goodyear successfully appealed.

The U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, affirmed an appeals-court ruling that she’d filed her complaint after a deadline that limited when employees could claim pay discrimination based on race, gender, religion, or national origin.

Ms. Ledbetter spoke at the 2008 Democratic National Convention. In January, 2009, she accompanied President-elect Obama on his train bound for Washington and the inauguration. And she was at the White House later that month when Mr. Obama signed the first bill of his presidency, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which extended the statute of limitations for filing pay-discrimination claims.

“What I am so very proud about is that it was sponsored and co-sponsored by Republicans and Democrats,” Ms. Ledbetter said.

Her book, Grace and Grit: My Fight for Equal Pay and Fairness at Goodyear and Beyond, written with Lanier Scott Isom, was published in 2012. She also spoke at that year’s Democratic National Convention.

To endure such a fight takes support of family and trust in a higher power, Ms. Ledbetter said.

“You gotta be hard and tough and determined,” she said.

Ms. Ledbetter was the keynote speaker of the dinner, a collaboration of Advocates for Basic Legal Equality, Legal Aid of Western Ohio, and the Toledo Bar Association’s pro bono legal services program.

Also at the dinner, the Community Advocacy Award was presented to the Northwest Ohio Reentry Coalition for its work to eliminate barriers to ex-offenders’ successful re-entry into the community.

The Public Interest Law Award went to HCR ManorCare and the Toledo office of Anspach Meeks Ellenberger LLP for creating and taking part in a weekly clinic in Lucas County Juvenile Court for those without legal representation.

Local lawyer Cary R. Cooper received the Distinguished Service Award to recognize his support of the mission of legal aid in northwest Ohio.

Contact Mark Zaborney at: mzaborney@theblade.com or 419-724-6182.