Lilly Ledbetter never expected to have a law named after her.
But then, the former line manager at the Goodyear Tire plant in Gadsden, Ala., never thought the company had been paying her lower wages than other line managers who were men.
And who could have predicted that the U.S. Supreme Court would eviscerate equal-pay provisions of the Civil Rights Act by overturning her lawsuit in Ledbetter v. Good-year?
The 71-year-old activist spoke Wednesday to nearly 300 people at Eastern Washington University in Cheney.
“It’s not just the Lilly Ledbetter story,” she said. “It does not belong to Democrats or Republicans. This is a civil rights matter.”
Nevertheless, it took a Democrat-controlled Congress to pass the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which was the first act of Congress signed by President Barack Obama when he assumed office.
When Ledbetter was tipped by an anonymous fellow worker that she had been underpaid for nearly 20 years, she filed an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint against Goodyear and eventually won a hard-fought case in U.S. District Court before it was overturned by the Supreme Court.
The justices ruled 5-4 that the statute of limitations for her equal-pay complaint ran out six months after she took the job.
When she found out her pay was lower than that of her co-workers, she said, “I thought about just moving on. But I just couldn’t let Goodyear get away with it.”
And after the high court decision, Ledbetter said, she was inspired to carry on her fight by the dissenting opinion of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who strongly urged Congress to right a wrong.
Ledbetter became a champion of a bill passed by Congress in 2008. It resets the statute of limitations on equal-pay claims to six months from the date of any paycheck that reflects discriminatory pay.
“We cannot stop there,” Ledbetter said. “Discrimination still exists.”
She urged the crowd at EWU to support the Paycheck Fairness Act to allow full compensation for wage discrimination. The measure has passed the House of Representatives and awaits a vote of the Senate.