Lilly Ledbetter started work as a supervisor at Goodyear Tire and Rubber plant in Alabama in 1979. She worked there for the next two decades. Towards the end of her time at Goodyear, she began to suspect that she was earning less than her male colleagues. An anonymous note in her mailbox confirmed it. Despite being praised by her bosses, they had given her smaller raises than the men who worked around her.
Over the course of her time at Goodyear, pay discrimination cost Ledbetter more than $200,000 in salary. Worse, because the statute of limitations had passed, she couldn’t recover it. The story led President Barack Obama to sign the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act, which guarantees that such a situation cannot recur in the US.
Pay discrimination is often categorised as a ‘women’s issue’, but it goes further than that. Injustice at work undermines the sense of fairness that is fundamental to a healthy workplace. By paying Ledbetter less, Goodyear hurt her financially. But it also failed to live by the principle of equal pay for equal work. Because the Ledbetter family had fewer resources, they all suffered from Lilly’s mistreatment.