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Updated on August 15, 2012

Lilly Ledbetter: Mother of the Movement

On July 18th of this year, at Macalester College in St. Paul, I had an opportunity to hear Lilly Ledbetter tell her story of how she discovered right before her retirement that she received 40% of the pay men received for the same position. She is the Mother of the Equal Pay Movement in the United States. In 1979 she was hired at Goodyear as one of the company's first female managers.

I've got to say that she is a fiesty, white woman with a southern accent. Born in 1938 in Possum Trot, Alabama, she had neither electricity nor running water in her family's home. She has a fire and passion for her cause of equal pay for all women. You probably could find women in other countries who have fought for equal pay who are just like her. In the United States women, on the average, receive 77 cents on the dollar when compared with men. Unfortunately, men are harmed by this inequity. Over 50% of women work outside the home in the United States and contribute significantly to the household income of all these households. This harms families because less income is available to meet basics. Big universities and corporations benefit from this inequity because they often pay women less than men.

She did file a sex discrimination case against Goodyear and won, but then she lost when Goodyear won on its appeal to the Supreme Court. Of course, all the women judges ruled in her favor because they knew discrimination she is experiencing on a more personal basis. She tells her story along with Lanier Scott Isom in her book Grace and Grit: My Fight for Equal Pay and Fairness at Goodyear and Beyond.

On January 29, 2009 President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act. It was his first legislative act as president. The act amended the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The 180-day limit for filing equal-pay law suits "resets with each new discriminatory paycheck."

In 2012 a companion bill entitled the Paycheck Fairness Act was considered in both houses of Congress. The Senate failed to pass the act. Sixty votes were needed and the vote was 52-47 with all Republicans voting against the act.

The National Organization of Women (NOW), who advocates for women's rights and issues, advocated for this act along with many allies. The Paycheck Fairness Act strengthens the Lilly Ledbetter Act because government would have a better enforcement mechanism. The paycheck act would allow "compensatory and punitive damages." It provides training for small businesses and help with compliance. Employers could not retaliate against workers asking for information on their wage practices or revealing their salaries to other employees. A grant program would be created to establish salary negotiation training for all females. Data would also be collected by the Department of Labor on "hiring, promotions, terminations and wages for all federal contractors."

Most likely this act would be re-introduced after the general election in November to recify some of the discriminatory practices of employers. This issue effects many families in the United States and would an issue which would be revisited after the election.

Growing up in the 1960's and 1970's, I recall a number of discriminatory practices which employers used against women. Some would fire women when they got pregnant as a standard practice. I remember the campus minister at the Lutheran Center at the college where I attended stating that his wife had to hide her pregnancy, so she could keep her job and help support his seminary education. Women often were fired when they got married and men were hired in their place.

Women were not promoted and ended up training men for higher managerial positions. This was documented in a lawsuit against Walmart Corporation last year. I remember when I was in college how my younger sister was an Assistant Manager at a restaurant. A male was chosen as the Head Manager, but he could not handle the position as well as my sister could. She was good at finances and working with people. She ended up being the Head Manager because the male manager failed. Too bad the company lost time and money because a more qualified female was not hired first instead. This happens all the time in some companies. When women are not valued for their abilities society and many companies pay the price.

It is good to see more and more successful women in all fields. My guru, Pandit Munelal, said there was a four-star female airline pilot captain on an airplane he flew on recently. When I was a child, you rarely saw women pilots in aircraft. More women are even starting their own businesses based more on equality, sharing and more family times for employees. There are more female leaders of nations in this century than prior centuries. More female clergy, spiritual teachers and swamis have been doing spiritual work and activism in this century, also.

Women are good at seeing the whole picture because the connections between the hemispheres of their brains are more suited to this way of seeing the world. Men are better at focusing on one thing. People are all different in their abilities and it's good to use everyone's gifts and talents to make a better world.

There is much more to be done in promoting fairness for homemakers and career women. Progress in society depends upon the welfare of womankind. Homemakers are not valued as they should be. If you had to hire someone to be a homemaker in your home, you would understand the economic value women contribute to the family. When my father died, my mother lost income from her social security check because she only worked a few years outside the home. This is an inequity which effects many women as they age, but also men who are househusbands have to face this issue, too. I thank all the advocates, male and female, who work on all these issues. They are truly spiritual warriors for justice and human rights.




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    • radhapriestess profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Minneapolis, MN

      Thanks for sharing, Vinaya, about your country. It is a real issue in many countries and not often talked about. It was a pleasure to hear her speak and about her determination on the issue.

    • Vinaya Ghimire profile image

      Vinaya Ghimire 

      6 years ago from Nepal


      Story of Lilly Ledbetter is very inspiring. I admit I knew nothing about Equal Pay Movement in the United States. In our country, women are still not equally pain in blue color jobs. However, situations are improving. Laws have been formulated to make women stand on equal footing with men.

      Thanks for sharing this fascinating article.



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