MorganRants

Things I am passionate about. Injustice, stupidity, intolerance, bigotry and small-mindedness. Oh and there might just be some humor to offset the whole thing.

Retired Female worker becomes champion of women’s fair pay

Posted by morganwrites on February 5, 2008

WASHINGTON (AFP) – Ten years ago, someone slipped an anonymous note into Lilly Ledbetter’s locker and the tire factory worker learned that she was being paid less than her male counterparts who were doing the same work.
lilly-ledbetter.jpg
(Lilly Ledbetter shown in front of the US Capitol, 2208)
Ledbetter took her case all the way to the US Supreme Court, but never received compensation. Today, she is leading the charge to change the laws that allow men to be paid more than women who do the same work.In 1979, Ledbetter was hired as a shift supervisor in a Goodyear tire factory in Gadsen, Alabama. She worked the night shift for nearly 20 years. Her strong work ethic gained her the respect of her subordinates.”There was nothing I wouldn’t do, no matter how dirty or hard,” she told AFP. “I never expected anybody to make it easier for me.”

But, she recalled, her male peers often gave her a hard time.

“They were afraid that if I did well, I would get the promotion before them.”

In 1998 she found an unsigned note along with her paycheck of 3,727 dollars per month before taxes.

It showed that three other night foremen, all males who did the same work as Ledbetter but none of whom had more seniority, were being paid between 4,286 and 5,236 dollars per month.

She immediately contacted the federal government’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which advised her to file a lawsuit.

But after an early retirement, a series of false hopes and nine years of roller coaster court battles, she got nothing.

In May, the Supreme Court effectively sealed her fate and that of countless other underpaid workers when it ruled by a narrow majority that a 1991 law limiting a company’s liability in such cases must stand.

Thereby, any employer found to have engaged in discriminatory pay practices would only be liable for damages within a time period of six months, not for the entire length of time that it was underpaying the employee.

The 5-4 decision illustrated the conservative slant the nation’s highest court has taken since two new justices arrived, nominated in 2005 by President George W. Bush.

But some of the harshest criticism of the decision came from inside the high court, from its only female justice.

“Pay disparities often occur, as they did in Ledbetter’s case, in small increments; cause to suspect that discrimination is at work develops only over time. Comparative pay information, moreover, is often hidden from the employee’s view,” said liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg in her dissent.

“The problem of concealed pay discrimination is particularly acute where the disparity arises not because the female employee is flatly denied a raise but because male counterparts are given larger raises.”

According to the National Organization for Women, the court decided that “the 180 day filing limit had begun way back when the very first paycheck showed lesser pay. Eighteen years of continuing wage discrimination against Ledbetter by Goodyear held no sway.”

With that decision, Ledbetter lost any chance of recovering the hundreds of thousands of dollars she had been awarded by a lower court.

At trial, a jury awarded her 3.8 million dollars, but the judge capped it to 300,000 dollars, and the court of appeals invalidated it.

“I didn’t get anything, I’ll never get anything. The Supreme Court said it didn’t count it as discrimination, but it sure feels like discrimination,” Ledbetter said.

“According to the Supreme Court, if you don’t figure things out right away, the company can treat you like a second-class citizen for the rest of your career, and that’s not right,” she added.

The whole matter could have ended there. Ledbetter, 69, went to her home in the southern state of Alabama and devoted her time to her husband who is battling cancer and to her grandchildren whose weekend football games take up lots of family time.

But inspired by her battle, Democratic lawmakers are now trying to change the laws on the books.

In July, the House of Representatives passed the “Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act,” and a similar draft bill came before the Senate in January.

Even though the Supreme Court based its decision more on legal technicalities than the merits of her complaint, it seems that US lawmakers cannot get enough of hearing the woman sometimes known as “Miss Lilly” recount her story.

Ledbetter has already testified before two House committees in the now Democratic-controlled Congress. She has given speeches across the southeast of America, and is invited this spring to give talks in New York and at Harvard University.

And her crusade does not only concern women: At Goodyear, African-American shift supervisors were paid even less than she was.

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