Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Saga of Lilly Ledbetter


History of the Case:

In 1998, Lily Ledbetter, a newly retired plant worker for Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company, decided to investigate and later prosecute against her long time employer due to gender pay discrimination. After working at the Goodyear , she received an anonymous note in her company mailbox. The note listed her salary and the salaries of three men who worked the same job as she did. Initially, when Ledbetter started working at Goodyear in 1979, she was receiving the same pay as the men she worked alongside, but through the years and salary raises by the time she reached retirement she was receiving about $559 less per month than the lowest paid men and $1509 per month than the highest paid men!


Court Proceedings:

Lilly Ledbetter, after finding out that she was receiving unequal pay, decided to file charges against Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company. She filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). She went to the lower court, suing Goodyear using the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Equal Pay Act of 1963. The lower court allowed her to sue based on the Civil Rights Act, but not the Equal Pay Act of 1963. She claimed that Goodyear was treating her unequally based on her gender; Goodyear replied that their pay system was non-discriminatory and based upon worker competence. Ledbetter was denied because according to the EEOC, she could only sue within 180 days of her beginning the EEOC process. This means she had 180 days to sue from her first paycheck, not when she found out 20 years later.


Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act

After the Supreme Court ruled against Ledbetter, Rep. George Miller of California introduced the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in June 2007.  It was passed in the House, but defeated in the Senate. Why would anyone oppose something called the “Fair Pay Act”? Who would vote against fair and equal pay for everyone? Senate Republicans, who said that this would cause frivolous lawsuits. Even Governor Sarah Palin was against the bill, saying it would be a “boon for trial lawyers,” but insisting that her and Sen. John McCain were “all for equal pay for equal work.” 

      The bill was re-introduced at The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 by Sen. Barbara Miluski of Maryland in January 2009.  The vote passed the Senate, then the House.

      The bill was then up for consideration from President Barack Obama. He had supported Lilly Ledbetter throughout his candidacy, and he chose this bill to be the first piece of legislation he would sign as President. He signed the bill into law on January 29, 2009.

      Unfortunately, this bill does not extend the statute of limitations for as long as Lilly Ledbetter and Congress Democrats intended it to. It only extends it for another 180 days, which would mean that the entire statute of limitations equals 360 days, or just short of one year. Congress attempted to update the law to extend the time, but the Bush White House and Senate Republicans blocked the legislation in the last session of Congress. However, the 360-day statute of limitations starts at the last discriminatory paycheck.


Relevance to Sociology of Family:

Women currently make 77 cents to the male dollar on average, which desperately needs to change. Even in professions dominated by women, men make substantially more money. Minority women also make less than white women. Women and single mothers are more likely to be in poverty than men.

  Large-scale change from the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act won’t be immediate. Hopefully with the threat of possible lawsuits, employers will fall in line, and pay men and women equally. The Act is a step in the right direction, but much work must be done to ensure that women are being paid equally, without exception.

  As Obama claims, “Equal pay is by no means just a women's issue -- it's a family issue”. With equal pay, there would be more money for the family. Many costs are associated with raising children. Health care, food (hopefully nutritional), school supplies, college, gas, books, toys, and extracurricular activities are some of the expenses. Many families can only afford the bare minimum, especially in our current economic times. Equal pay would eliminate some of the financial strain. 


Questions: Please respond to one of us in the comments section. (Make sure you identify who you're responding to).


Rachel’s Question:

Do you think that the court was being discriminatory towards Ledbetter when they said she should have filed suit within 180 days of her first paycheck instead of from the 180 days she found out the difference in pay? If not, do you feel that this part of the bill was unfair to everyone?


Mia’s Question:

How will the passing of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act affect the future of feminism? Does the Act contribute to the notion that feminism is no longer needed?


Bonnie’s Question:

How has unequal pay between the genders influenced you or someone you know? Has unequal pay affected your family in any way, or do you think it will affect you and your family in the future?


Rhyanna’s Question:

Do you think employers will now change their discriminatory pay practices? If yes, how do you think this change will affect families in the future?





  1. Hi everyone,
    Sorry this was posted kind of late. We had some technical difficulties with the website earlier today.

    We hope you enjoy reading our post... and be sure to identify whose question you're answering, in order to make it easier for us to respond.

  2. Ok, what a great way to start this blog! I look forward to following this discussion and to reading what your class colleagues have to say about this. I know as an academic, pay differentials also exist in higher education and the impact is differentially experienced by women. We have come far yet we have so much more to do on the equality front. Of course, higher wages can only benefit the health and well-being of families, children, and satisfaction within couples, whether those that are cohabitating, civil unions, or married.

    Amy R-R

  3. Rhyanna's Question

    I'm not sure if this is going to show up in the right spot, so if its not sorry.

    I believe that some companies will follow this equal pay law while others will not. Like many other times when government has tried to make a drastic change very fast many companies (or whatever is being changed) 'fall through the cracks' and don't follow these rules until later years. For example the state of MA has a rule about high school students needing 990 hours per school year of academic classes. I know for a fact that my high school did not follow this law until my senior year of high school when the state threatened to take away money given to the school. I feel as though the same type of situation is going to occur with this law. Some companies will obey and fix the pay roll whereas other companies will not. The companies that don't will not get caught for a while; I believe this because the entire nation is trying to be changed right now, when it took years for just an entire state to follow a law that was passed in the same type of manor. Like stated in one of the resources provided it will take threats, lawsuits, time, etc. in order to get all companies to have equal pay for everyone. The companies that do change and make equal pay I believe will help the family economically. If the mother's pay goes up she will be able to help the family as a whole more financially. The family would have more opportunities to pay for higher education, activities outside of school, food and clothes. This would also help single mothers out drastically. They would be able to provide for their children better and in the long run their children would have more opportunities than many children with single parents do now. Hopefully all the lawsuits won't put the nation into more of a economic crisis.

  4. Response to Rhyanna’s Question:

    I think, (similarly to the person who posted right before me), that some employers will change their discriminatory pay practices, but others will continue to pay their employees unequally based on sex. From my understanding of the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, an employee must take initiative to receive fair pay. There is no system in place that will investigate and penalize companies that violate this act. Therefore, it seems plausible that employers of higher paid professionals will change their discriminatory pay practices because they know that their employees have the resources to sue them. However, many employers of lower paid, entry level employees may continue the practice of unequal pay because they know that their employees lack the necessary money, time, and expertise to take legal action against them. Many employers, therefore, have no real incentive to change their discriminatory practices.

    However, employees that receive equal pay because of this act will be positively affected, as will their families. For example, according to Seccombe (2008) “if working women earn the same as men...their annual incomes would rise about $4,000, and poverty rates would be cut in half” (p. 125). Based on these statistics, equalizing pay will greatly benefit women, especially single mothers. Despite this, there is still much work to be done in regards to fighting for equal rights for women, but this act is a good beginning.

    - Amy Diamond

  5. In response to Bonnie's question:

    My mom's best friend was actually in this situation when she worked for Kentucky Fried Chicken in the mid 1990's. Not only was she paid less than her male coworkers, but also was not given the oppurtunities to advance within the company like her male coworkers were. She continually tried to fight it within the company, but was denied time and time again for a raise or promotion equal to that of the other male workers. She finally gave up and quit. We were not allowed to eat there for years after that in order to boycott the company.
    It is something that no one really thinks happens, but in reality goes on everyday. Not only did it affect my mom's friend's income, but also subsequently it caused her to have to quit her job. This loss of income can really strain a family especially one already in poverty. This new law is finally aknowledging that it is a real issue and that it needs to be addressed. I am glad to know that hopefully by the time my future daughters get jobs this won't even have to cross their minds.

  6. To answer Rachel’s question:

    I feel that the courts were simply following the laws set in place, but that by no means, means that those laws are justified. Ledbetter was forced to endure 20 years of unequal pay and that is a terrible thing. It is hard to say that the courts ruled in such a way just because she is a woman, however, it appears that a situation like this could only have happened to a female. I have never witnessed a man receiving less pay than a woman.

    I do feel that this bill was unfair to everyone, but the emphasis is definitely on women who tend to receive less pay than men. It is ridiculous for the law to state that these underpaid individuals should sue the company 180 days after their FIRST low paying paycheck. How are these people to know of the inequality without time to figure it out? 360 days is better, but no where near ideal. The law should allow the wronged person to be able to file a complaint once they understand what is happening. Now people might get paranoid and want to make sure they are being treated fairly, but salaries are confidential so we are right back where we started.

  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

  8. In response to Rhyanna’s Question:

    Mostly in addition to the previous two who answered this question, I believe that employers are unlikely to change so quickly, but hopefully over time there will not be as much of a difference in pay as there is now. What I feel will make it even a slower change is the economy, so if women were not being paid as much before, now it will be even harder for employers to start giving women more money. I understand that some people just discriminate against women as well and it will be even tougher to prove our point to them. But with this act getting as far as it did, we can only get closer the next time and if we are persistent and keep vouching for this case, we will eventually get to see the time in our lives where women will be paid the same, no more and no less, than men. That way in the future, families will be more financially secure, especially single mom's or even those without children. But I believe that even being on our way to equalizing the pay of men and women, we still have a ways to go.

    - Heather Lombardi (Sorry I erased my previous post, forgot to sign it)

  9. Rachel’s question:

    I don’t think that the court was necessarily being discriminatory towards Ledbetter when they said she should have filed suit within 180 days of her first paycheck. I don’t agree with this system, however, I don’t think it was being discriminatory towards her. It is standard process for everyone, (which generally means minorities because white men are do not typically face discrimination in the workforce.) I think the process is unfair because 180 days may not be enough time to see if there is discrimination. Some people do get pay raises within the first three months, however, one has to be exceptional. As with Ledbetter’s case, she started out earning the same wages as the men in her job, however her wages did not go up with theirs. She was discriminated against over time, which was not covered by EEOC. It leads me to believe that the system was set up this way on purpose so that companies could have a loophole. They are not allowed to discriminate, but only for the first 180 days. After that, they are free to do what they want. It keeps companies out of lawsuits and it really just seems like a way to cover their ((butts)). The system and the law in itself is corrupt and discriminatory, not the courts. The courts had every right to deny Ledbetter from the Equal Pay Act because they just followed what the statutory said. The statutory is what needed to be fixed which is what Obama did by extending the statute of limitations from 180 to 360 days.

    -Christina C.

  10. In response to Rhyanna's question:

    I believe the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act will encourage larger companies to make changes in how they pay employees, because of their size, they are generally under more scrutiny to comply with anti-discrimination legislation. Class-action suits for gender discrimination almost always prosecute larger companies like Sears or Wal-Mart. I am skeptical that this will have any immediate effect on the salaries of female employees in smaller companies or businesses because these work environments are locally (or at most, regionally) based, so there are simply fewer people interested in ensuring equitable pay practices are taking place. The root of this problem is the lack of transparency regarding salaries and raises. One cannot report discrimination if they do not know it is happening, like in the case of Lilly Ledbetter. Transparency can eliminate the problem of unequal wages because employers and employees can compare the wages of employees that have similar experience and time with the company/business/school, etc, to determine if any adjustments in pay need to be made. The state of Massachusetts has already instituted this practice for state employees. Anyone can go online and see the annual salary of anyone that works in a state office and how long they've worked there, so it is possible to put this idea to practice. With state employees there are several legitimate reasons to publicize how much employees make other than to avoid discrimination (to prevent corruption, blatant nepotism, etc.), but those in the private sector might (reasonably) oppose to having their salaries publicized. For this reason, I propose that private-sector companies be required to report all employee salaries just to company employees, so they can make a determination about the equity of their pay rates and still allow them to maintain some level of privacy. These could be distributed like quarterly reports, and the frequency of these reports would allow plenty of time within the 360 day statute to file a complaint about unequal wages.
    Regardless if my dream for transparent pay practices take shape, I believe the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act will have a positive impact on families of the future. In America today,the middle-class lifestyle that so many hope to achieve is nearly impossible to obtain without two full-time incomes per family. The Ledbetter Fair Pay Act acknowledges that women are equal contributors to the market economy, and thus should ALWAYS receive equal pay for comparatively equal work. When women earn more, they have more resources to put towards their families. For those just at the poverty line, this could mean the difference between having a home or not, paying the bills or not, or even if the children have plentiful access to nutritious food or not. For middle-income families, an increase in income means that there are more resources available for the enrichment of children with extra-curricular activities and hobbies, which boost confidence, sociability and creativity. Clearly there are benefits for families. When legislators, places of employment and society in general come to accept the importance of w omen's contributions to work and the necessity of their income contributions at home, will there ever be long-lasting and wide spread changes to pay inequity. The Ledbetter Fair Pay Act is a good step in the direction towards this end.

    -Devin Smith

  11. Rhyanna Anderson- Moderator Response

    Thank you everyone so far for addressing my question so thoroughly! All of the posts I have read have brought up some great points.

    There seems to be a consensus that people think that many businesses will not change their practices and if they do it will take time and effort for this change to take place. I especially liked Amy's point about the incentive of businesses to change their policies based on ability of resources and the probability of employees suing. Also, many mentioned that it is quite difficult for employees to find out that their pay is different than others. I really liked Devin's suggestion of having salaries publicized within the company or business. She also made some great points about how this Act can positively affect the family, touching on emotional gains in addition to the obvious material gains.

    A final piece I would like to touch on is the context in which this Act is being passed- a hurting economy. Heather touched upon how it seems that it will be even harder today than before to get employers to comply because of these hard economic times. Is it possible that paying the extra wages due to women will actually hurt businesses and in turn further hurt the economy? Perhaps this is far-fetched but I'd love to hear others' opinions

  12. To answer Rhyanna's question:

    Although I would love to think that all employers will justly follow the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, I question whether it will play out that way. Since employees are usually discouraged from discussing their salaries with each other, how will a woman know when she is being underpaid in comparison to her equally qualified male coworkers? Will the government be more closely monitoring the salaries of every person at every company to ensure that employers are following this new legislation? And if that is the case, can't employers still claim that they are basing the employees' salaries somewhat on their competence, as they did in the case of Lilly Ledbetter? Although the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act is most certainly a step in the right direction in regards to eliminating gender bias in the work place, there seems to be loopholes that employers can sneak through. Hopefully the government will be actively engaged in enforcing this act so that women throughout the nation will be provided more opportunities to prosper from their careers and support their families as effectively as men can.
    -Julie Conton

  13. Rhyanna's Question

    I believe thats the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act will not have an immediate affect on equal pay in the work force. I think that this is definately a step in the right direction and eventually over time things will change. Even though 180 days has been added to the time of filing a case I still do not think that this is enough time. Women do not usually realize the unequal pay until years later and by then it is to late. I think that if women keep stepping up and fighting for equal rights, then equal pay will come.

    Since I do not believe that the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act will have an immediate effect on society, then it will also not affect the family. I think that when equal pay is allotted then over time it will help the family. Equal pay will definately help single mothers. It will give them more money to support their families. I believe that this act is a great step in fighting for equal pay.

    Brianne Caira

  14. Rhyana’s Question:

    I believe that imployers would be very smart to change their discriminatory hiring practices, if they don’t, they’ll get sued. I think this means that hopefully more women, and in particular, minority women and single mothers will get hired. This will have a positive effect on families. Single mothers who were once struggling to give their children all the material things they want and need will now have a good paying job, where they’re payed equally compared to men. This will help children get the education they need, and families get the health care they need. So equal job oppurtunitys would positively effect women.

    From Sam

  15. I love this very interesting discussion! I look forward to hearing from even more of you!

    Amy R-R

  16. I'd like to respond to Mia's question...

    I think the passing of the act had an immediate, albeit small, impact on feminism because it brought attention to a fact that many people were actually surprised by: sexism still exists. That may sound obvious or dumb, but I was shocked at the responses I got when I would discuss the Fair Pay Act with friends shortly after it was passed. Most people said, indignantly, "We didn't have that yet?!" I think the passing of legislation such as this is an eye-opener to just have far we still have to go. I hope that this renewed awareness will have an impact on feminism in the sense that women who may have previously been unaware of gender inequalities become curious about other discriminatory practices that "fly under the radar" in day-to-day life, and that they choose to activate in order to create further positive changes.

    As for the second part of the question, I'm going to be optimistic here for a minute and say that high-profile cases such as this in which women's rights are advanced simply PROVE, rather than negate, the need for feminism and the feminist spirit to continue in our society. In the same vein as my previous paragraph, I truly feel that events such as this remind us all of the inequalities we may usually overlook, and inspire us to dig deeper, learn more, educate ourselves on our rights, and fight for the rights that we may be denied currently. I hope to see the same kind of continued positive change in the area of gay rights, as well as in another area that some people tend to see as an "issue of the past" - racial equality. We still have so far to go, and I admire people like Lilly Ledbetter so much for taking leaps in the right direction.

    -Becca Macy

  17. Bonnie Bryant- Moderator Response

    To the person who posted about their mom's friend being discriminated against: (I'm sorry, you didn't post your name!)
    This is an example of how this issue really does affect women AND families. Obviously, most people who are discriminated against are not as successful as Lilly Ledbetter has been. (In fact, in terms of money, Ledbetter was unsuccessful: she is not entitled to ANY of her lost wages. )
    Most people who are discriminated against go through the same things your mom's friend went through. They are discouraged by management, and put through so much b.s. that they are eventually fired or driven to quit. Their families obviously suffer as well, because the lost wages and subsequent search for another job means less food on the table. This is especially true for single mothers, who oftentimes are discriminated against because of their sex AND because they have children.
    As you said, hopefully the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act will make it so that our children (and us!) will not have to worry about this.

  18. Mia BloomBecker- Moderator Response

    There were some similarities in response to my question. The general consensus is that the act will help women, and the future of feminism. Some were more optimistic than others about the degree to which women, and families, will immediately be helped by this Act. As Sabina pointed out, the social status of women, and the power they hold, must be changed. Equal pay would certainly help. There are also other factors, such as the value placed upon jobs. Women and men are still very segregated in the jobs they have. For example, lawyers make a lot of money, but the vast majority of lawyers are men. All work should be seen as important.
    I was pleased that people disagreed with the second hypothetical question. What I was trying to imply was that those who view feminism as no longer necessary may see this Act as further justification that women are ensured equality through the law. I completely disagree with this rhetoric, but have heard it multiple times.
    I hope Becca is correct, and that women will become more curious about other means of inequality, and become more well-informed, and inspired to work towards change.
    As everyone mentioned, there are many other ways sexism effects women. Women and men must keep fighting to ensure that women have true equality.
    Thank you for your comments.

  19. Rhyanna’s Question:
    I think that employers are definitely going to begin changing these discriminatory pay practices. As more of these cases present themselves, the spotlight will shine on companies who are discriminating through pay. This being a negative label on the companies, they will do what is in their power to not be labeled as such. And the way that this will affect families is by making individuals more capable of supporting children. Single mothers, who in years passed would have made significantly less at a career, now make an equivalent salary. Because of this change, there is potential for a shift in family structure based on economic needs. An example being women choosing to raise children alone rather than with someone out of economic need. I feel that only good things would come out of promoting equal pay in ways such as this.

  20. Rachel- Moderator Response

    I completely agree with every ones response. I don't think that the courts were being discriminatory towards Lilly Ledbetter, but the law was not correct; this is why it needed to be changed. 180 days since the first discriminatory check is not sufficient amount of time because discrimination could not be found out until later.

    In response to Christina, I had not thought of it as a loophole, but now I see where you are coming from. It could very well be a loophole for companies to save money.

    In conclusion, I believe that the person who is being discriminated should sure within the time period they find out, instead of now 360 days since the last discriminatory paycheck. It is a confusing, and complicated bill which is why people have been mistaken before.

    -Rachel Badger

  21. Bonnie's Question

    My mother had an incidence of being paid less than her male co-workers as well. When I was a baby she worked for the Gillette company and did accounting work for them. Her male co-workers all made a significant amount more than her and when she confronted her boss he completely dismissed her. Furthermore he would make comments about her going on maternity leave (I know this is a bit off topic). He would comment that she was getting pregnant just so she could get paid leave. How far we have come in the past two decades.

  22. Sorry, this is in addition to the last post.

    I think that for women like Lily Ledbetter it is so important for more to speak out and be more public with this issue as if has affected and still does affect many women. Thanks to Obama's new acts we will hopefully see a reduction in the frequency of this discrimination.

    -Caitlin Richelson