Author: Lilly Ledbetter with Lanier Scott Isom
Publisher: Crown Archetype
03/05/2012 Although she probably never dreamed of it while she was growing up in Possum Trot, Alabama, Lilly Ledbetter's name has become, for a while at least, a household word.
Ms. Ledbetter is the woman who worked at the Goodyear Tire plant in Gadsden, Alabama, for 19 years and who, near the end of that time in March of 1998, received an anonymous note telling her that she was being paid substantially—as much as 40%—less than the other supervisors because she was a woman.
There were six male managers. Their annual salaries ranged from $59,028 down to $55,679.
Lilly was getting $44,724, for the same work.
Lilly sued and in January of 2003 won a huge settlement in Birmingham. She was awarded back pay of $328,597 and punitive damages of $3,286,000.
Goodyear appealed. The case went to the U.S. Supreme Court where in a 5-4 decision the court, with Justice Samuel Alito writing for the majority, found for Goodyear because Ms. Ledbetter had not filed her complaint within 180 days of the first discriminatory paycheck, back in the '80s. Ledbetter of course did not know anyone else's salary: in fact company policy was to keep all salaries confidential.
As Ledbetter put it: "Goodyear had been doing me wrong long enough to make it legal."
Writing for the minority of four, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg suggested the decision was "not in tune with the realities of the workplace."
Catch-22's pop up everywhere. You must file a complaint within 180 days of being cheated, even if you have no way of knowing you have been cheated.
Ledbetter outlines the legal issues clearly and persuasively, but "Grace and Grit" is more than an annotated legal brief; it is also Ledbetter's autobiography, and it has been quite a life, requiring on her part lots of, as she puts it, grace and grit.
Ledbetter was raised in Possum Trot, and you can't make that up. Her drunk grandfather was so awful he tried to kill her pet dog with a hoe. Lilly is a straight talker. About her grandfather she says: "I'm honestly not sure there was any good in him, but I can also say that he wasn't all that different from most of the other men around me." Mama was not much at nurturing, either.
The family was too poor for Lilly to have much of anything, especially a college education, but this narrative is written clearly and movingly. The collaboration between Ledbetter and co-author Lanier Scott Isom was a true success.
After marrying while still in high school, and taking a number of jobs at which she worked hard and learned—a G.E. factory, doing taxes for H&R Block—Lilly got on at the Goodyear plant. The actual work was hot, exhausting and dangerous, but the sexual harassment was outrageous. Men propositioned her, threatened her, slashed her car tires, cut her brake cable and broke her windshield, even groped her at work. Supervisors told her outright they meant to get rid of her. The wives of her co-workers didn't want her on the factory floor with their husbands. This was all happening in the 1980s and 90s, not the eighteenth century.
She felt the need to carry a knife to work and then a pistol in her car.
She bought the gun at "Lewis Carroll's Jewelers, the only place in Anniston where you could leave your film to be developed, buy diamonds and purchase a gun…."
It seemed no one would help. Of course she wanted to quit, but the wages were better than anywhere else in Etowah or Calhoun County and she had a husband, home and children. In fact it should come as no surprise that the stresses Lilly endured at work damaged her relationships to family and friends. Through most of her troubles Lilly never mentioned it to her husband, Charles. He might have taken matters into his own hands or he might have insisted she quit. Lilly soldiered on alone.
In the end, sadly, Ledbetter received no settlement. The corporation lawyers prevailed. But Lilly got to tell her story at the 2008 Democratic National Convention and then, on January 29, 2009, President Barack Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act into law, the very first piece of legislation of the new administration.
In appendices to this volume are the texts of Ledbetter's speech to the 2008 Democratic National Convention, President Obama's speech upon the signing of the "Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act," the texts of "The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act" and "The Paycheck Fairness Act" and a list of resources for individuals who feel they have been discriminated against and are seeking help.