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Fair pay crusader highlights post observance
Third ID deputy commander general-rear Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Phillips, left, and Command Sgt. Maj. Jeffrey Ashmen, right, present a gift to fair-pay activist Lilly Ledbetter. Ledbetter spoke Wednesday at Fort Stewart’s Women’s Equality Day Observance. - photo by Photo by Denise Etheridge
Lilly Ledbetter didn’t get a dime from her decade-long struggle to make fair pay a law. Ledbetter said she was just trying to do the right thing when she filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in July 1998 against her former employer, the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company in Gadsden, Ala.
Ledbetter spoke before a crowd of soldiers Wednesday during Fort Stewart’s annual Women’s Equality Day Observance.
“It was never about the money,” the diminutive mother and grandmother said. “It was about my American civil rights — what I had earned, what I was entitled to.”
Ledbetter discovered she was being paid significantly less than her male counterparts for doing the same job. She recalled the day she found a note taped to her locker. The note compared her salary to those of her male co-workers.
“To this day, I don’t know who wrote it,” Ledbetter said. Still, she affirms she knew the message to be true and it shocked her to the core.
“I was devastated. I was humiliated,” she said.
Before her early retirement, Ledbetter earned $3,727 per month. She said there were four men who held the same managerial position she did; the lowest-paid man earned $4,286 and the highest-paid man received $5,236 per month.
In November 1998, after she had retired, Ledbetter sued Goodyear, claiming pay discrimination under the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.Thus began her commitment to end gender discrimination and work toward equal pay for all Americans, women and men.
Ledbetter’s legal fight took her all the way to the United States Supreme Court. Her appeal was rejected on a technicality. She had sued 180 days after her employer’s alleged act of discrimination. However, the court’s ruling was reversed Jan. 29, 2009, when President Barack Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act into law.
Ledbetter said she took up the cause because “right is right.” She said her family life continued but not without sacrifice. Ledbetter’s late husband provided her unwavering support, she said, although he was waging a personal battle against cancer. Ledbetter was widowed in December 2008.
Following Ledbetter’s speech, the equal pay activist joined a guest panel of local women who took turns answering questions from the military audience. The panel included command paralegal Sgt. Maj. Claudia Turner, Brooke Floyd with U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston’s office, Savannah realtor Celia Dunn, Glennville Mayor Jean Bridges, Flemington Mayor Sandra Martin and former FORSCOM Deputy Chief of Staff, G8 Senior Executive Service (retired) Vicki Jeffries.
Each had advice for young men and women.
Bridges encouraged Fort Stewart’s soldiers to vote and to be active in their local communities. Martin suggested youth learn to set priorities. “You must have your own beliefs but be open,” she said.
“Don’t be afraid to ask for help and be there to help others,” Jeffries said. She suggested young people set realistic goals and be prepared to take an opportunity when one is presented.
“Don’t forget who you are or where you came from,” Ledbetter said. “And don’t take anything for granted.” She also said soldiers should “know all the rules. They need to look up the laws and see what they’re entitled to. But they shouldn’t overstep those rights.”
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