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Equal pay crusader says she'll always be 'second-class citizen'

The Tampa Tribune
Published:   |   Updated: July 9, 2013 at 05:20 PM
TAMPA -

After a life of anonymity in Jacksonville, Ala., Lilly Ledbetter made a name for herself when her gender discrimination lawsuit against Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. reached the Supreme Court two years ago.

A lower court had ruled Goodyear owed Ledbetter $3 million for paying her much less than her male counterparts. But the Supreme Court disagreed.

The majority said that by law, she should have filed her case within 180 days of her first paycheck - or at least 180 days after she learned of the pay discrepancy. Ledbetter retired from Goodyear in the late 1990s, after 20 years with the company. She learned of the pay discrepancy before she retired, but more than 180 days passed before she filed her case.

An outcry prompted Congress to pass the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act earlier this year. It amended the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to establish a new 180-day statute of limitations with each new paycheck.

Ledbetter, 71, speaks at noon today at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, 2nd Street South at 6th Avenue South.

She spoke with The Tampa Tribune this week. Here are excerpts from the conversation.

How did the case change your life?

It's unbelievable. Sometimes I hear myself introduced at certain locations, and I sort of wonder who they are introducing. It's so unbelievable for someone of the stature that I held to get this notoriety. I've travelled all over the country. I've been invited to Italy.

Are you benefitting financially?

No. Most of the time I just get expenses. Occasionally I get an honorarium, but not usually.

How would your life be different if you had received the same pay as your male peers at Goodyear?

Today, my retirement would be almost twice what it is. I will be a second-class citizen for the rest of my life. I was paid much less than what I was entitled to under the law. It was a drastic hit to me while I was working, trying to support my family, and now in retirement. My retirement income is all based on what my salary was.

What was your reaction to the Supreme Court decision?

I was stunned to say the least. It not only hurt me, but it hurt every working woman and minority out there today. I was shocked they thought I should know what the men I worked with made. That is very hard to do. At some places you're not allowed to talk about it.

And what did you think of the way Congress stepped in?

I was amazed that the whole thing was done in just 18 months. But Ruth Bader Ginsberg challenged Congress to do something, and they did.

What is your advice to working women today?

I want them to be aware and alert to what they are entitled to under the law, and to know that if they aren't getting what they should, it can do them and their family harm, not only while they are working but on into retirement.

If you go

Lilly Ledbetter is speaking at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg today as part of a research session organized by the Center for Civic Engagement.

When: noon today

Where: Campus Activities Center, corner of 2nd St. S. and 6th Ave. S, St. Petersburg

Why: To learn more about gender discrimination in the workplace


Reporter Lindsay Peterson can be reached at (813) 259-7834.

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