Ledbetter, who continues her long struggle against pay discrimination, has made a groundbreaking impact in an effort to banish unequal pay on behalf of women and their families — resulting in the signing of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act into law. Because of her perseverance, the Alabama native has been called an advocate and a crusader for equal pay.
"I have never applied that word (crusader) to myself before," said Ledbetter, "but thinking about it, I guess I am."
Ledbetter worked as a Goodyear supervisor for almost 20 years before learning that she was a victim of discriminatory pay. The day she found out, she came home and told her husband that she wanted to file charges with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. His immediate response was, "What time would you like me to meet you at the EEOC office?"
She was awarded back pay after fighting eight years in court. However, the Supreme Court overturned the decision saying she did not file her complaint within required time limitations. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was moved to write a dissent challenging Congress to do something about pay inequality for women.
"In our view, the court does not comprehend, or is indifferent to, the insidious way in which women can be victims of pay discrimination," Ginsburg said.
Under Congressman George Miller's leadership, the House Labor and Education Committee immediately took up the challenge. Miller contacted Ledbetter to ask her if she would like the bill to be named after her — an uncommon occurrence. On Jan. 29, 2009, President Barack Obama signed the act into law, which resets the 180-day filing period for every new discriminatory paycheck.
Though she will not receive the money owed to her, Ledbetter has chosen to spend her retirement traveling the country speaking out against discriminatory pay. She wants to educate others on this issue so that they don't suffer the same fate.
"College students are shocked because there are equal pay laws on the books, but they are not always being adhered to by employers," said Ledbetter. "I can't fault these students, as I was once so trusting. I thought I knew what I was entitled to. I knew my rights. We had government contracts, so surely the laws were being enforced . . . never assume anything."
TTU is among several colleges and universities, including Harvard and Georgetown, that Ledbetter has been invited to speak at around the country.