Civil Rights Icon Visits USF - St. Pete

10/22/09 Kate Bradshaw
WMNF Drive-Time News Thursday | Listen to this entire show:

The first bill President Obama signed into law was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. It allows workers to file legal action within 180 days after receiving any discriminatory paycheck – that is, wages based on unfair factors like gender. The legislation’s namesake spoke in St. Petersburg today.

The rural Alabama native had never intended to get into politics. Her plans, Ledbetter told a captive audience at USF St. Pete, hit a snag decades into her career. After nearly 20 years as a regional manager for Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company she received an anonymous tip that her pay was considerably lower than that of her male counterparts.

She realized that the unfair treatment went beyond her paycheck.

Ledbetter filed suit. The case got all the way to the Supreme Court. It held that she was not entitled to the back wages discriminatory pay practices denied her, because she had waited too long to file a complaint.

The problem was, Ledbetter’s employer had made her promise not to discuss pay with co-workers. She took to lobbying congress with the Women’s Law Center. In 2008 the Democrats embraced her cause. She spoke at the 2008 Democratic National Convention, and later became an icon for the party. Nine days into his presidency, Obama signed a bill named in her honor into law. It amends the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by giving anyone receiving a discriminatory paycheck 6 months to file a complaint. If found guilty of discrimination, an employer would then have to retroactively make up for all past wages deemed discriminatory. Although she cannot benefit from the law, Ledbetter said that though it is a forward step there’s more work that needs to be done.

Judith-Anne Scourfield McLachlan, the USF St. Pete faculty member who organized the visit for the Women in Government course she teaches, says that a woman can expect to earn around 76 cents for every dollar her male counterpart makes. This she attributes to an obsolete notion.

Leadbetter told WMNF that there are a number of bills in Congress that address fair pay.

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