WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - Lilly Ledbetter, 75, is a southern woman who speaks with a soft accent. It is her determination that is made out of steel. You hear it in the stories she told this week in West Palm Beach about her ongoing fight for "equal pay for equal work" on the job.
The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was signed into federal law in 2009 by President Obama. Ledbetter made its enactment her personal mission after what she endured on the job for 19 years at a Goodyear tire plant in her native Alabama.
The married mother of a son and daughter went to work to help ends meet. She says she confronted constant sexual harassment but persevered. She rose to a supervisor's role, doing the same work as male colleagues with the same responsibilities and work titles.
Layoffs happened in the late 1990's and an anonymous note came her way that showed Ledbetter was being paid a lot less money than the men. She earned $44,000 annually, about $14,000 less than the male supervisors.
Ledbetter told me, "It was not right. I think growing up in that poor rural section of Alabama at the time I did with my parents, who lived through the Depression, it just gave me the grit I needed to see this thing through."
Her discovery began a decade long court fight that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The justices upheld an appellate court ruling that blocked Ledbetter from receiving back pay because she hadn't filed a lawsuit within 6 months of receiving her first unequal paycheck. Congress,though, would later pave the way for the federal law with Ledbetter's name attached and she travels the country now to make her case for equal pay for women and men.
Ledbetter said, "I never at any time wanted to throw in the towel so to speak. I had to see it through." She is still doing precisely that, a trailblazer for workplace equality and a testament to the courage of one's convictions.
You can see her full interview on "To the Point" on May 5th, right after "Meet the Press" here on NewsChannel 5.
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