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September 22, 2010
‘Wage Discrimination Touches Everyone,’ Says Lilly Ledbetter
Women should not just be entitled to equal pay, they should be earning it, Lilly Ledbetter said during a webinar, “Equal Pay for Working Families,” sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) on September 21. Ledbetter voiced her support for passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act by Congress because it protects against retaliation for discussing pay and increases the limit for recovered wages.

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Ledbetter, whose lawsuit (Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co.) resulted in passage of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 that eliminates the time limit within which an employee must file a complaint of pay discrimination as long as he or she continues on your payroll. The Paycheck Fairness Act will “further level the playing field,” she said, “and … give women the tools to make sure they have fair pay and benefits.”

She described how she was “shocked” to learn that she was making less than her male colleagues. She said because her company, Goodyear, was a large corporation and a government contractor, “I thought they followed the federal law.”

Perhaps because of fear of retaliation, someone at Goodyear left Ledbetter an anonymous note in her company mailbox disclosing the base salaries of her and three of her male counterparts. “It was a wake-up call,” she stated, when she learned she was about $200,000 behind her colleagues with regard to salary, overtime, pension contributions, and benefits. The note also told her that despite her years of service, she was at the bottom of her pay range. “That hurt me,” she said.

She now advocates for pay equity around the country because “wage discrimination touches everyone.” She notes that both males and females are supporting elderly parents whose Social Security payments are too low to live on due to chronically low wages, and younger men often must contribute to help out female relatives who can’t make ends meet because of pay discrimination.

Working mothers who support families are often afraid to speak up about employment issues, such as not being paid for overtime, because they fear for their jobs. Ledbetter said that passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act will “give women courage in the workplace.”

“It wasn’t about the money,” says Ledbetter about her 10-year legal battle that resulted in her getting 2 years of back pay. The Paycheck Fairness Act will eliminate such limits. She said that while the legislation will indeed help “vulnerable” low-income workers, pay discrimination is found in all levels of employment, including academia and the medical field.

Ledbetter advised women to be their own pay advocates by educating themselves about their employment rights and doing research on employers to make sure they have been in compliance with federal and state laws. “Young women don’t realize that they will be far behind in pay,” she said, and once you are behind in pay, “you can never catch up.”

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