by Thea Voutiritsas
This woman was the plaintiff in the famous American employment discrimination case that led to the passing of Fair Pay Act in 2009.
Answer: Lilly Ledbetter
Lilly Ledbetter was the plaintiff in the employment discrimination case Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., which led to the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009. Ledbetter worked for Goodyear from 1979 to 1998. Upon her retirement, she sued the company for paying her significantly less than her male counterparts. When the lawsuit reached the Supreme Court, it was denied because she did not file within 180 days of her first paycheck. Ledbetter argued that she did not know of the pay discrepancy at the time. United States Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in defense of Ledbetter, stating:
“Initially, Ledbetter’s salary was in line with the salaries of men performing substantially similar work. Over time, however, her pay slipped in comparison to the pay of male area managers with equal or less seniority. By the end of 1997… Ledbetter was paid $3,727 per month; the lowest paid male area manager received $4,286 permonth, the highest paid $5,236.”
Ledbetter’s case and Ginsburg’s dissent led to the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which was introduced in 2007. The Act revised the law to allow for claims of discrimination to be included, even if they occurred outside of the 180-day statue of limitations. In 2009, Congress passed and President Barack Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act into law.
Ledbetter’s case proved that discrimination often takes place in small increments over time, and in ways that are difficult to measure and sometimes even harder to prove. Without knowledge of her coworker’s salary, on top of her slowly dwindling paycheck, it was hard for Ledbetter to take action against the discrimination she was experiencing. However, her fight for equal pay paved the way for future cases, and exposed the problems of insidious discrimination.