MCHR Executive Director Meets Fair Pay Advocate Lilly Ledbetter at Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Conference
(MCHR Executive Director, Alisa Warren (left),
Missouri Commission on Human Rights (MCHR) Executive Director, Alisa Warren, described her brief encounter with Lilly Ledbetter as, "A great honor and privilege." Warren met Ms. Ledbetter, namesake and inspiration for the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, during the Employment Opportunity Commission Conference, which was held in Philadelphia, Pa., in June.
In 1979, Lilly Ledbetter, began work at the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. in its Gadsden, Ala., location. During her years at the factory as a salaried worker, raises were given and denied based on evaluations and recommendations regarding worker performance, as is typical. All merit increases had to be substantiated by a formal evaluation. In March 1998, Ledbetter inquired into the possible sexual discrimination of the Goodyear Tire Co. In July, she filed formal charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
In November 1998 after early retirement, Ledbetter, the plaintiff, sued her employer claiming pay discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Equal Pay Act of 1963. She started at the company with the same pay but by retirement, she was earning $3,727 per month compared to 15 men who earned from $4,286 per month (lowest paid man) to $5,236 per month (highest paid man). The case eventually went to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Supreme Court did not rule on whether this was discrimination, just that Ms. Ledbetter was beyond the statute of limitations to sue.
In denying Ledbetter's case, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito said that "she could have, and should have, sued" when the pay decisions were made, instead of waiting beyond the 180-day statutory charging period. The Court did leave open the possibility that a plaintiff could sue beyond the 180-day period if she did not, and could not, have discovered the discrimination earlier. The Court's denial of Ms. Ledbetter's claim resulted in the passage of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act by President Obama on Jan. 29, 2009, and became the first act of Congress signed by the new President Obama since his assumption of office on Jan. 20, 2009.
Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. is an employment discrimination decision of the Supreme Court of the United States. The decision did not prevent plaintiffs from suing under other laws, like the Equal Pay Act, which has a three-year deadline for most sex discrimination claims, or 42 U.S.C. 1981, which has a four-year deadline for suing over race discrimination.
"Ms. Ledbetter's story can be an inspiration to all workers; one person changed the law," said Warren. "Because of her, worker protections have been significantly increased. Passage of this legislation is a testament to the importance of the MCHR and the work we do every day to protect Missourians' rights."
The MCHR is an independent commission housed in the Missouri Department of Labor and Industrial Relations. It is responsible for enforcing the Missouri Human Rights Act which prohibits discrimination in employment, housing, and places of public accommodation because of race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, sex (including sexual harassment and pregnancy), disability and age (in employment only), and familial status (in housing only). For more information about your rights, the MCHR complaint process, or free public informational sessions, visit www.labor.mo.gov/MOHumanRights or call 573-751-3325.