STARKVILLE, Miss. (WCBI)- Lilly Ledbetter, the woman known for taking a stand and demanding equal pay in the workplace, spoke to hundreds of students at Mississippi State on Tuesday.
She was the featured speaker for this year’s Leo W. Seal Jr. Distinguished Speaker Series at MSU.
As she shared her message, Ledbetter said her goal is to reach at least one person and help prevent them from going through the struggle she did with discrimination in the workplace.
“It’s an American right to get equal pay for equal work,” said Ledbetter.
The year was 1979 and the Alabama native was just starting as an employee at Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company.
She worked there for nearly two decades, thinking everything was going smoothly and that she was being treated fairly, but then came a bombshell.
“After 19 years someone gave me a tip, because when I went to work for Goodyear, the HR department told me if I ever discussed my pay that I would not have a job, so no one ever discussed their pay,” Ledbetter recalled.
Ledbetter would come to find out that she was making 40 percent less than her male counterparts at her job.
“How embarrassed,” she expressed. “I did not know where the note came from, I did not know where the information came from, and are these people on the floor where I’m working a 12 hour shift, are they laughing behind my back, who knows it, how far has this rumor or the story gone. I had no idea.”
Instead of quitting and giving up, Ledbetter filed a lawsuit fighting for equal pay.
The equal pay activist went to court and initially won her case and was awarded $3.8 million.
However, Ledbetter said she never saw that amount.
“Back-pay, you only go back two years,” Ledbetter explained. “The judge took the lowest person’s payment in my department and based my two years on his pay. No overtime, it did not matter how many hours I worked that did not enter into it, didn’t matter about my retirement, that’s gone. They gave me $30,000 per year, so I left the courtroom on Friday afternoon with $360,000 award.”
However, that ruling was overturned.
The court voted that Ledbetter was not entitled to compensation because she did not file her lawsuit within the required statute of limitations.
Despite the setback, that still didn’t stop her for fighting for equal pay.
Ledbetter would eventually see her determination and fight pay off.
In 2009, the U.S. Congress passed the the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act, a law that expanded the statute of limitations for filing an equal-pay lawsuit.
Former president Barack Obama signed the legislation in January of 2009, it was one of the first pieces of legislation he signed into law.