A Call to Act: Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co.

A Call to Act: Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co.


THIS FILM IS A PROJECT OF THE LEONORE
ANNENBERG INSTITUTE FOR CIVICS AND THE
ANNENBERG PUBLIC POLICY CENTER OF
THE UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA. THE CONSTITUTION PROJECT: A CALL TO ACT THERE ARE THREE BRANCHES
OF GOVERNMENT: CONGRESS WRITES THE LAW,
THE EXECUTIVE ENFORCES THE LAW AND THE JUDICIAL
INTERPRETS THE LAW. THE SUPREME COURT ISN’T ALLOWED
TO LOOK AT WHAT POPULAR OPINION
MIGHT BE. THEY REALLY ARE INTERPRETING
THE LAW AS THEY SEE IT. BUT WHAT IF THE COURT
INTERPRETS A LAW, AND THE
PEOPLE DON’T SEE IT THAT WAY? THAT’S THE STORY OF
ONE 70 YEAR OLD GRANDMOTHER
FROM ALABAMA WHO LOST IN ONE BRANCH,
THEN WON IN ANOTHER. GADSDEN, ALABAMA IS HOME
OF THE NOCCALULA FALLS AND THE BROAD ST. BRIDGE. IT’S JUST ABOUT AN HOUR NORTH
OF THE TALLEDEGA SUPERSPEEDWAY. AND IN 1979, IF YOU WERE
LOOKING FOR A JOB IN GADSDEN, THE PLACE TO START WAS
THE GOODYEAR TIRE COMPANY, YOU KNOW THE RUBBER COMPANY.
THE PEOPLE WITH THE BLIMP AND LOOKING FOR A JOB WAS
LILLY LEDBETTER… PEOPLE MAKE FUNNY COMMENTS
ABOUT MY NAME. LILLY LEDBETTER WAS ALREADY A
MANAGER AT AN ACCOUNTING FIRM WHEN SHE DECIDED SHE WASN’T
LIVING HER DREAM AND
IT WAS TIME, WELL, FOR THE RUBBER
TO MEET THE ROAD. YOU SEE,
LILLY LOVED RADIAL TIRES. MY FATHER’D BEEN A MECHANIC
ALL HIS LIFE AND I JUST KNEW THAT
RADIAL TIRES WERE
THE WAY OF THE FUTURE. SHE WANTED TO SECURE
HER OWN FUTURE,
SO SHE LANDED A JOB AT GOODYEAR. I WAS HIRED ON
FEBRUARY 5TH, 1979. LILLY LEDBETTER WORKED AT THE
GADSDEN PLANT AS AN AREA MANAGER
FOR 19 YEARS. SHE DID THE OVERNIGHT SHIFT
FOR A GOOD PERIOD OF THAT TIME. AND FOR MANY YEARS SHE WAS
THE ONLY WOMAN HOLDING THAT JOB. THE MEN DID NOT APPRECIATE
A WOMAN BEING IN A POSITION THAT COULD TELL THEM WHAT TO DO. THIS FLAT TIRE NEEDS A MAN. BUT, WHEN THERE’S NO MAN AROUND… LOOK AT THIS. THIS IS AN ACTUAL
COMMERCIAL THAT RAN DURING
MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL JUST A FEW YEARS BEFORE
LILLY WAS HIRED. WHEN THERE’S NO MAN AROUND, GOODYEAR SHOULD BE. OKAY, TIMES WERE A LITTLE
DIFFERENT, BUT LILLY KNEW
WHAT SHE WAS UP AGAINST, AND STILL DID HER JOB WELL. FOR ALMOST 20 YEARS,
LILLY MANAGED THE MEN
WHO WORKED FOR HER, WON HONORS FOR HER
MANAGEMENT SKILLS, AND
SUPERVISED THE MAKING OF TONS – LITERALLY, TONS —
OF RADIAL TIRES. STILL, WEEK BY WEEK, TIRE BY
TIRE, LILLY DIDN’T KNOW IT, BUT SHE WAS FALLING FARTHER AND
FARTHER BEHIND THE MEN IN PAY. AT GOODYEAR, I WAS TOLD WHEN I
HIRED IN YOU NEVER DISCUSS
YOUR PAY WITH ANYONE. LIKE MANY COMPANIES,
GOODYEAR HAD A
PAY CONFIDENTIALITY POLICY. THEY DID NOT SHARE PAY
INFORMATION WITH OTHER WORKERS. EMPLOYERS WANT PAY TO BE SECRET
BECAUSE THEY DON’T WANT
EMPLOYEES TO BE JEALOUS OF ONE ANOTHER
OR RESENTFUL OF
WHAT OTHER PEOPLE GET PAID. AND SO THE PROBLEM THAT
LILLY LEDBETTER FACED
IS A VERY COMMON PROBLEM WITH RESPECT TO PAY, WHICH IS THAT YOU MAY WELL BE
THE VICTIM OF DISCRIMINATION AND YET NOT KNOW IT. FOR YEARS, LILLY GOT CHECKS
EVERY PAYDAY JUST LIKE
THE OTHER EMPLOYEES. SHE GOT RAISES ON
A REGULAR BASIS. IT ALL FELT NORMAL, BUT… SHE HEARD RUMORS ABOUT WHAT
OTHER PEOPLE WERE PAID. SHE HAD SOME SUSPICIONS BASED ON LITTLE PIECES OF INFORMATION
SHE PICKED UP HERE AND THERE. AND THEN ONE NIGHT, JUST BEFORE
SHE WAS ABOUT TO RETIRE, LILLY FOUND OUT THE RUMORS WERE
TRUE WHEN SHE CAME INTO WORK… AND I REACH INTO MY
LITTLE CUBBY HOLE WHERE I CALL A MAILBOX AT WORK,
AND I DRAGGED OUT MY MAIL. AND IN THAT IS A TORN ROUGH
SQUARE OF PAPER
AND I LOOKED AT IT, I SAW 4 FIRST NAMES,
I SAW THE BASE SALARIES. UH, I KNEW IT WAS TRUE BECAUSE
MINE WAS CORRECT. $3,727 BASE SALARY PER MONTH. I WAS DEVASTATED. LILLY DECIDED TO SUE GOODYEAR. THERE WAS NO ONE ELSE CLOSE
TO WHAT I WAS BEING PAID WITH MY TRACK RECORD AND
MY LENGTH OF SERVICE. GUY MAY BE MAKING $60 AN HOUR
WHERE I’M STILL ONLY MAKING 30. NOW IF THAT’S NOT
DISCRIMINATION,
I DON’T KNOW WHAT IT IS. NOW, THERE HAS ALWAYS BEEN
A GAP IN THE WAGES
THAT MEN AND WOMEN ARE PAID. ALWAYS. AND THE WAGE GAP
IS STILL HUGE TODAY. A WAGE GAP IS WHERE MEN AND
WOMEN DO THE EXACT SAME JOB, THE EXACT SAME HOURS,
AND THEY’RE NOT PAID
THE SAME AMOUNT. AND SO NATIONALLY, WOMEN
MAKE ABOUT SEVENTY SEVEN CENTS
ON THE DOLLAR THAT MEN MAKE. YOU CAN REALLY START A DEBATE
AMONG SOCIAL SCIENTISTS
ABOUT THAT QUESTION: WHY DO WOMEN EARN LESS? YOU CAN TRY TO ACCOUNT FOR
EVERYTHING YOU CAN THINK OF:
EDUCATION, EXPERIENCE, JOB CATEGORY… IT’S NOT BECAUSE THEY’RE HOME,
TAKING CARE OF FAMILY. THIS IS ACROSS THE BOARD THAT
WOMEN DON’T EARN AS MUCH AS MEN. IT SOUNDS JUST TOTALLY AND
PATENTLY UNFAIR AND IT IS. THE GAP IN LILLY’S PAY WAS
EVEN GREATER THAN THE
NORMAL WAGE GAP. LILLY WAS ONLY MAKING AS LITTLE
AS 60 CENTS FOR EVERY DOLLAR THE MEN IN HER POSITION MADE –
THAT’S UP TO 40% LESS. THINK ABOUT IT THIS WAY:
AFTER BEING PAID LESS MONEY
EACH WEEK FOR OVER 19 YEARS, LILLY ENDED UP MAKING
HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF
DOLLARS LESS THAN THE MEN. THE JURY IN LILLY’S CASE
AWARDED HER
OVER 3 MILLION DOLLARS. THE JURY IN LILLY LEDBETTER’S
CASE CLEARLY FELT THAT GOODYEAR HAD ACTED
EGREGIOUSLY. THE THREE MILLION DOLLAR NUMBER
IS A VERY HIGH NUMBER FOR THIS SORT OF A CASE. I JUST WANTED TO STAND UP AND
SHOUT, AND THANK THEM,
AND THANK THEM. BUT THE LAW LIMITS THE AMOUNT
A JURY CAN AWARD SOMEONE
IN A CASE LIKE THIS TO 300,000 DOLLARS PLUS TWO
YEARS OF SALARY AT A
NON-DISCRIMINATORY RATE, SO THE JUDGE REDUCED
LILLY’S AWARD,
FROM OVER 3.5 MILLION DOLLARS, DOWN TO 360,000. IT WAS STILL A VICTORY FOR
LILLY — THEN GOODYEAR APPEALED. HERE’S WHERE IT GETS
COMPLICATED. SO LILLY LEDBETTER WINS
THIS GREAT JURY VERDICT, AND THEN SOMETHING HAPPENED
TO COMPLETELY UNSETTLE THE CASE. THE
11TH CIRCUIT COURT OF APPEALS
RULED IN GOODYEAR’S FAVOR. BUT THE COURT OF APPEALS
DIDN’T RULE
THAT GOODYEAR WAS NOT LIABLE. IT RULED THAT LILLY MISSED THE
180-DAY FILING DEADLINE. THE 11TH CIRCUIT CAME BACK AND
SAID THAT I SHOULD HAVE FILED WITHIN 180 DAYS WHEN MY PAY
WAS INITIALLY SET, THAT I DEFINITELY HAD A
DISCRIMINATION CASE. I WAS TOO LATE IN MY FILING. THERE ARE GOOD REASONS
IN THE LAW FOR HAVING A
FINALITY FOR EVERY DEADLINE. IF YOU’RE RUNNING A BUSINESS, YOU MIGHT KNOW
THAT THERE’S A CERTAIN PERIOD
IN WHICH YOU RISK A LAWSUIT BUT YOU SHOULDN’T HAVE TO
WORRY ABOUT IT FOR 30 YEARS. SOUNDS REASONABLE. BUT HERE’S
WHERE THE COURTS COME IN. WHAT EXACTLY DOES 180 DAYS MEAN? THAT IS PLENTY OF TIME TO FILE
A CHARGE ONCE YOU KNOW BUT IF YOU DON’T KNOW
YOU CAN’T DO ANYTHING ABOUT IT. IS IT 180 DAYS FROM THE DAY
THE DECISION WAS MADE
TO DISCRIMINATE, EVEN IF THE VICTIM DIDN’T KNOW
ABOUT THE DISCRIMINATION? OR IS IT 180 DAYS FROM
THE CHECK THAT COMES
AFTER THE VICTIM FINDS OUT? CONGRESS PASSED TWO
MAIN FEDERAL LAWS TO ENSURE WOMEN ARE TREATED
FAIRLY ON THE JOB. THE EQUAL PAY ACT SPECIFICALLY
CALLED FOR MEN AND WOMEN DOING EXACTLY THE SAME JOB
TO GET EQUAL PAY. IT WAS PASSED BY CONGRESS
IN 1963, AND SIGNED BY
PRESIDENT JOHN F. KENNEDY. I MUST SAY
I AM A STRONG BELIEVER
IN EQUAL PAY FOR EQUAL WORK. AND I THINK THAT WE OUGHTA DO BETTER THAN WE’RE DOING. AND THE FOLLOWING YEAR,
AFTER PRESIDENT KENNEDY’S
ASSASSINATION, CONGRESS PASSED
THE CIVIL RIGHTS ACT OF 1964, SIGNED BY
PRESIDENT LYNDON JOHNSON. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR
AND OTHER CIVIL RIGHTS LEADERS
FOUGHT FOR THIS LAW, WHICH DEALT WITH EVERYTHING
FROM VOTER PROTECTION TO
DESEGREGATING PUBLIC SPACES. AMONG ITS KEY PROVISIONS
OR TITLES, IS TITLE 7. TITLE 7 IS ONE OF OUR MOST
IMPORTANT CIVIL RIGHTS STATUTES THAT GOVERNS EMPLOYMENT
DISCRIMINATION IN THE WORKPLACE. IT MAKES IT UNLAWFUL TO
DISCRIMINATE AGAINST EMPLOYEES BASED ON RACE, SEX, COLOR,
RELIGION AND NATIONAL ORIGIN. AND IT IS PROBABLY OUR
SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT
CIVIL RIGHTS STATUTE WHEN IT COMES TO ENSURING
EQUAL OPPORTUNITY IN THE AREA THAT HITS PEOPLE
THE HARDEST, THE WORKPLACE. IT RECEIVED THE BIPARTISAN
SUPPORT OF MORE THAN TWO-THIRDS
OF THE MEMBERS OF BOTH
THE HOUSE AND THE SENATE. AN OVERWHELMING MAJORITY
OF REPUBLICANS AS WELL AS DEMOCRATS
VOTED FOR IT. THIS IS REPRESENTATIVE
GOVERNMENT. CONGRESS AND THE PRESIDENTS
WHO SIGNED THESE LAWS WERE RESPONDING TO CONCERNS
VOICED BY THEIR CONSTITUENTS. THE CIVIL RIGHTS STATUTES WERE
THE RESULT OF MANY YEARS OF CIVIL RIGHTS PROTESTS
AND DEMONSTRATIONS. IT’S REALLY ABOUT THE
RESPONSIVENESS OF THE AMERICAN POLITICAL
SYSTEM TO THE WILL
OF THE PEOPLE. CONGRESS OVER THE YEARS
HAS ACKNOWLEDGED
WORKPLACE INEQUALITY AS A MAJOR SOCIAL PROBLEM A PROBLEM THAT INTERFERES
WITH EVERYONE’S ABILITY
TO COMPETE ON EQUAL TERMS. THE PURPOSE OF THE LAW
WAS TO STOP PEOPLE
FROM BEING PAID UNEQUALLY. AND SINCE 1964,
APPELLATE COURTS HAD ALL RULED
THAT A SUIT COULD BE FILED 180 DAYS AFTER THE VICTIM
RECEIVED A
DISCRIMINATORY PAYCHECK. EVEN IF THAT CHECK CAME YEARS
AFTER THE DISCRIMINATION BEGAN, BECAUSE A VICTIM MIGHT NOT KNOW
SHE WAS A VICTIM UNTIL SHE FOUND OUT
WHAT EVERYONE ELSE WAS PAID. THAT RULE WAS CALLED
THE PAYCHECK ACCRUAL RULE, AND UNDER THE
PAYCHECK ACCRUAL RULE, EVERY TIME THE EMPLOYER WRITES
OUT A DISCRIMINATORY PAYCHECK THE STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS
STARTS OVER. BUT THIS TYPE OF CASE
HAD NEVER MADE IT
AS HIGH AS THE SUPREME COURT. SO WHEN THE APPEALS COURT
IN THE LEDBETTER CASE DISAGREED WITH ALL THE
OTHER COURTS BEFORE IT, THE SUPREME COURT DECIDED
TO STEP IN. THIS CASE WAS NO LONGER
ABOUT DISCRIMINATION… THE JURY VERDICT WAS NEVER
OVERTURNED. THE JURY FOUND THAT
SHE HAD PROVEN HER CASE. SHE FACED DISCRIMINATION. BY THE TIME IT GOT TO
THE SUPREME COURT, THE LEDBETTER CASE WAS ABOUT
HOW TO INTERPRET
THE STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS IN TITLE 7. THE QUESTION THAT WENT TO
THE SUPREME COURT WAS WHEN DOES THE 180 DAYS
START TO RUN? WHAT GOODYEAR SAID WAS, IT DOESN’T MATTER
WHETHER WE PAID HER LESS
BECAUSE SHE WAS A WOMAN OR NOT, BECAUSE THIS HAPPENED
TOO LONG AGO. SO SHE SIMPLY FILED HER CLAIM
TOO LATE. WHAT LEDBETTER WAS ARGUING IS
THAT HER 180 DAYS COULD RESET EACH TIME
SHE GOT A PAYCHECK THAT PAID HER AN UNFAIR AMOUNT. NOW, THERE ARE OTHER FILMS
THAT TELL THAT RARE, VERY
AMERICAN STORY OF AN AVERAGE EVERYDAY PERSON TAKING
THEIR CASE ALL THE WAY TO
THE SUPREME COURT AND WINNING. THIS ISN’T ONE OF THOSE.
LILLY LOST. THE MAJORITY OPINION
FOR THE COURT ADOPTED
GOODYEAR’S ARGUMENTS AND THE 11TH CIRCUIT RULING THAT THE DISCRIMINATORY ACT
THAT STARTS THE CLOCK TICKING IS THE INTENTIONAL DECISION
ITSELF TO PAY SOMEONE LESS
BECAUSE OF THEIR SEX, NOT THE RECEIPT OF THE
DISCRIMINATORY PAYCHECK. IT WAS A 5 TO 4 MAJORITY
OPINION WRITTEN BY
JUSTICE SAMUEL ALITO THAT SAID THE INJURED PARTY
SHOULD HAVE 180 DAYS TO SUE STARTING FROM THE TIME THAT
THE DECISION TO DISCRIMINATE
WAS MADE. AFTER THAT,
JUSTICE ALITO ARGUED, THE STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS
SHOULD BE ENFORCED. JUSTICE ALITO AGREED
WITH GOODYEAR THAT DAY JUSTICE ALITO READ
THE DECISION FROM THE BENCH. AN EEOC CHARGE MUST BE FILED
WITHIN 180 DAYS OF THE UNLAWFUL EMPLOYMENT
DECISION ITSELF EVEN IF ITS EFFECTS ARE
NOT FELT UNTIL LATER. WHEN JUSTICE ALITO WAS DONE… WE THEREFORE AFFIRM THE
JUDGMENT OF THE 11TH CIRCUIT. A CONFLICT BETWEEN THE JUSTICES
WAS ABOUT TO BECOME A CONFLICT BETWEEN THE THREE BRANCHES
OF THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT. JUSTICE GINSBURG HAS FILED
A DISSENTING OPINION. WHEN THE LEDBETTER CASE CAME
TO THE SUPREME COURT THERE WAS ONLY ONE
FEMALE JUSTICE ON THE COURT, JUSTICE RUTH BADER GINSBURG. JUSTICE GINSBURG WAS THE
LEADING LITIGATOR ON SEX DISCRIMINATION CASES
IN THE UNITED STATES. JUSTICE RUTH BADER GINSBURG
WAS THE FIRST WOMAN
TO MAKE LAW REVIEW AT BOTH COLUMBIA AND HARVARD. SHE WROTE THE FIRST LEGAL
TEXTBOOK ON SEX DISCRIMINATION CASES. SO WHEN SHE TOOK THE UNUSUAL
STEP OF READING HER DISSENT
FROM THE BENCH IN THE LEDBETTER CASE, EVERYONE UNDERSTOOD THE
SIGNIFICANCE OF THE MOMENT. IT’S VERY UNUSUAL FOR JUSTICES
TO READ FROM THE BENCH WHEN A DECISION IS ANNOUNCED.
THEY WANT TO MAKE A POINT. WHEN A SUPREME COURT JUSTICE
DECIDES TO READ A
DISSENTING OPINION FROM THE BENCH OF THE
SUPREME COURT, SHE’S FORCEFULLY DISAGREEING. SHE SAID THAT THE MAJORITY GOT
THIS ISSUE COMPLETELY WRONG. TITLE 7 WAS MEANT TO GOVERN
REAL WORLD EMPLOYMENT PRACTICES AND THAT WORLD IS WHAT
THE COURT IGNORES TODAY. QUIETLY, CALMLY,
JUSTICE GINSBURG READ A SUMMARY
OF HER DISSENT… COMPARATIVE PAY INFORMATION
IS NOT ROUTINELY COMMUNICATED TO EMPLOYEES, INSTEAD
IT IS OFTEN HIDDEN
FROM THE EMPLOYEES VIEW. AND BEFORE JUSTICE GINSBURG
FINISHES, THERE’S SOMETHING
I NEED TO TELL YOU. BACK IN 1991, AFTER THE COURT
HAD HANDED DOWN SOME DECISIONS INTERPRETING THE CIVIL RIGHTS
ACT IN A WAY THAT CONGRESS
THOUGHT DID IT HARM, CONGRESS CHANGED THE LAW, BASICALLY TELLING THE COURT, WE
DIDN’T LIKE YOUR INTERPRETATION. THE YAYS ARE 381,
THE NAYS ARE 38. CIVIL RIGHTS ACT OF 1991
IS PASSED. WITH THAT IN MIND, JUSTICE
GINSBURG ENDED HER DISSENT
IN LEDBETTER WITH THIS: TODAY, THE BALL AGAIN LIES IN
CONGRESS’ COURT AS IN 1991 THE LEGISLATURE HAS CAUSE
TO NOTE AND TO CORRECT THIS COURT’S
PARSIMONIOUS READING OF TITLE 7. JUSTICE GINSBURG CALLED ON
CONGRESS TO CHANGE THE LAW SO THAT THE SUPREME COURT’S
DECISION WOULDN’T STAND. REMARKABLY, JUSTICE GINSBURG
IN HER DISSENT
GOES SO FAR AS TO SAY, “THE BALL IS IN CONGRESS’S
COURT.” JUSTICE RUTH BADER GINSBURG
CHALLENGED CONGRESS
TO CHANGE THE LAW BACK. BECAUSE THIS IS NOT A
CONSTITUTIONAL CASE, IT’S A STATUTORY CASE,
CONGRESS CAN GO BACK AND FIX IT. HERE’S THE DEAL:
THERE ARE REALLY TWO TYPES
OF SUPREME COURT DECISIONS. ONE IS CONSTITUTIONAL, THE COURT HAS TO GO
ALL THE WAY BACK TO A PROVISION
IN THE CONSTITUTION TO DETERMINE THE OUTCOME
OF A CASE. IF THE SUPREME COURT INTERPRETS
A CONSTITUTIONAL PROVISION, THE SUPREME COURT ESSENTIALLY
HAS THE FINAL SAY. UNLESS THE CONSTITUTION ITSELF
IS AMENDED. WHICH IS A VERY CUMBERSOME
PROCESS. IT DOESN’T HAPPEN VERY OFTEN. IT TAKES A SUPER MAJORITY
AT MANY LEVELS TO AMEND
THE CONSTITUTION. BUT SOMETIMES THE COURT
IS HANDING DOWN A RULING
THAT IS INTERPRETING OR CLEARING UP SOME CONFUSION
OVER A STATUTE
WRITTEN BY CONGRESS. AND THAT’S A STATUTORY DECISION. NO LAW CAN ANTICIPATE EVERY POSSIBILITY OR EVENTUALITY,
OR EVERY CASE THAT MAY COME UP AND THEREFORE, COURTS ALWAYS
HAVE TO INTERPRET LAWS AND SAY WHAT DID THEY MEAN. IN THIS CASE, AT WHAT POINT
DO YOU START COUNTING 180 DAYS? THAT’S A QUESTION,
NOT OF CONSTITUTIONALITY, BUT OF HOW DO YOU INTERPRET
WHAT CONGRESS SAID. THE SEPARATION OF POWERS
DOESN’T JUST ALLOW THE THREE BRANCHES OF
THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT TO CHECK AND BALANCE
EACH OTHER’S POWER; THAT’S WHAT THEY’RE
SUPPOSED TO DO. BUT IT’S NOT A STREET FIGHT.
THEY HAVE TO DO IT CAREFULLY. I THINK THE RELATIONSHIPS
BETWEEN THE BRANCHES CAN BE DESCRIBED AS CORDIAL
BUT CAUTIOUS. YOU HAVE TO BE PRUDENT AND YOU HAVE TO WEIGH ALL KINDS
OF IMPORTANT FACTORS SO YOU HAVE TO THINK ABOUT
THE PRECEDENT THAT’S CREATING FOR YOUR SUCCESSORS AND WHETHER YOU EXERCISE A CERTAIN AMOUNT
OF RESTRAINT. AND WHAT JUSTICE GINSBURG
IS DOING IS ENGAGING IN A CONVERSATION
WITH THE OTHER BRANCHES. A BIG FUNCTION OF THE COURTS IS TO INTERPRET THE MEANING AND
APPLICATION OF A STATUTE. BUT THAT’S NOT THE END OF
THE DIALOGUE. SO WHEN JUSTICE GINSBURG CALLED
ON CONGRESS TO OVERTURN
THE LEDBETTER DECISION… THE BALL AGAIN LIES IN
CONGRESS’ COURT. SHE BELIEVED THE SUPREME COURT
WAS INTERPRETING THE LAW IN A WAY THAT CONGRESS
NEVER INTENDED, AND SHE CHALLENGED CONGRESS
TO FIX IT. AND THE PERSON WHO PICKED UP
THAT CHALLENGE
WAS LILLY LEDBETTER. WHEN THE BALL LEFT
THE SUPREME COURT AND
BOUNCED INTO CONGRESS’S COURT, LILLY WENT WITH IT. SO LILLY TOOK HER NEWLY FAMOUS
NAME AND HER CAUSE ACROSS THE STREET TO
THE CAPITOL. SHE TESTIFIED AT HEARINGS… I HOPE THAT THIS COMMITTEE AND
THE CONGRESS AS A WHOLE CAN DO WHATEVER IS NECESSARY
TO MAKE SURE THAT IN THE FUTURE, WHAT HAPPENED TO ME DOES NOT
HAPPEN TO OTHER PEOPLE WHO SUFFER DISCRIMINATION
LIKE I DID. SHE PUT PRESSURE ON CONGRESS,
MAKING HER ARGUMENT
IN THE MEDIA… I WOULD GET UP AT 4AM AND
DO CALL IN RADIO PROGRAMS… WHEN YOU GO IN, AND
YOU’RE LEARNING A NEW JOB, YOU DON’T THINK ABOUT CHECKING
TO SEE IF YOU’RE BEING PAID LESS BECAUSE YOU ARE A MINORITY
OR A WOMAN. I WAS STILL TRYING TO LEARN
WHERE ALL THE RESTROOMS WERE. CAMPAIGNING FOR HER CAUSE
LANDED HER
ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL. SHE EVEN SPOKE AT A
NATIONAL CONVENTION. THIS ISN’T A DEMOCRATIC OR
A REPUBLICAN ISSUE. IT’S A FAIRNESS ISSUE. THAT’S PART OF THE ART OF OUR
SYSTEM IN THAT WHEN
YOU FAIL IN THE JUDICIAL BRANCH YOU STILL HAVE ANOTHER VENUE
AVAILABLE TO YOU. IN FACT LILLY WAS NO LONGER
FIGHTING FOR HERSELF. LOSING HER CASE AT THE
SUPREME COURT MEANT THAT SHE COULD NEVER
RECOVER HER JURY DAMAGES. EVEN HER PENSION, WHICH WAS
BASED ON THE UNFAIRLY LOW SALARY SHE’D BEEN PAID ALL THOSE YEARS, WOULD STAY UNFAIRLY LOW. ANY LAW THAT CONGRESS MIGHT PASS
WOULD ONLY HELP FUTURE CASES,
NOT LILLY. SHE BECAME THE SPOKESPERSON BECAUSE SHE DIDN’T WANT THIS
TO HAPPEN TO ANYONE ELSE. SHE DIDN’T STAND TO GAIN
FROM IT. THERE WAS NEVER GOING TO BE
ANY MONEY FOR HER, HER INJUSTICE WAS NEVER GOING TO
BE RIGHTED. AND SHE KNEW THAT. AND YET, DESPITE THAT, SHE WAS WILLING TO FIGHT HARD ON
BEHALF OF ALL THE OTHER WOMEN WHO STILL HAD AN OPPORTUNITY
TO BE TREATED EQUALLY. IN JANUARY, 2009,
NEARLY TWO YEARS AFTER
THE SUPREME COURT DECISION, CONGRESS PASSED A BILL
IN RESPONSE. THE LANGUAGE OF THE ACT,
WHICH IS QUITE SHORT, IS CLEARLY DIRECTED AT THE
RULING IN THE LEDBETTER CASE. THIS WAS AGAINST THE CLEAR WILL
OF CONGRESS. THE STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS
FOR AN EQUAL-PAY LAWSUIT NOW RESETS WITH EACH
DISCRIMINATORY PAYCHECK. AFTER A DECADE OF FIGHTING,
LILLY LEDBETTER HAD GONE
FROM THE GADSDEN PLANT TO THE SUPREME COURT
TO CONGRESS, TO THIS. LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, THE
PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES, ACCOMPANIED BY
MRS. LILLY LEDBETTER… THE FIRST BILL THE NEW
PRESIDENT SIGNED INTO LAW WAS THE LILLY LEDBETTER
FAIR PAY ACT. THE LILLY LEDBETTER
FAIR PAY ACT. I HAD ALWAYS HAD PEOPLE MAKE
FUNNY COMMENTS ABOUT NY NAME LIKE IT BELONGED ON THE
BEVERLY HILLBILLIES. BUT NOW, I SORT OF LIKE IT. WELL, THIS IS A WONDERFUL DAY. LILLY COULD HAVE ACCEPTED
HER LOT AND MOVED ON. SHE COULD HAVE DECIDED THAT
IT WASN’T WORTH THE HASSLE
AND THE HARRASSMENT THAT WOULD INEVITABLY COME
WITH SPEAKING UP FOR
WHAT SHE DESERVED. BUT INSTEAD, SHE DECIDED THAT
THERE WAS A PRINCIPLE AT STAKE, SOMETHING WORTH FIGHTING FOR. LILLY LEDBETTER LOST THE BATTLE
BUT WON THE WAR. THE ENACTMENT OF THE
LILLY LEDBETTER LAW TELLS THE PEOPLE THAT POLITICAL
ACTIVISM AND ENGAGEMENT IS AN ESSENTIAL PART OF
OUR POLITICAL PROCESS, AND THAT INDIVIDUAL CITIZENS
SHOULD NOT BELIEVE THAT THEY DON’T HAVE THE
AUTHORITY, THE CAPACITY TO BRING ABOUT CHANGES
IN THE LAW. I THINK THAT LILLY LEDBETTER
IS REALLY THE QUINTESSENTIAL
SYMBOL OF HOW ONE PERSON CAN MAKE
A DIFFERENCE. IF SOMEONE HAD ASKED ME
SOME YEARS AGO, I WOULD HAVE NOT BELIEVED
ONE INDIVIDUAL COULD START SUCH A MOVEMENT
THAT WOULD GAIN SO MUCH SUPPORT ACROSS THE COUNTRY IF AN
INDIVIDUAL BELIEVES AND GOT THE GRIT THAT IT TAKES
THEY CAN STAND UP AND CONTINUTE FIGHTING AND
MAKE A DIFFERENCE.

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