Lilly Ledbetter, whose discrimination lawsuit against Goodyear inspired the federal Fair Pay Act, will be among speakers at the Democratic Party convention in Charlotte, N.C., this week.
The appearance by Ledbetter, who was a supervisor at Goodyear’s Gadsden, Ala., tire plant, is no surprise. President Barack Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act just nine days after he took office in January 2009, and the Democrats see Ledbetter as symbolic of a “win.”
Stephen Brooks, associate director of the Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron, said that Ledbetter’s appearance is no doubt designed to help fire up the Democratic base.
He said Ledbetter might also appeal to that “terribly small slice of America that hasn’t already made up its mind.”
Brooks said Ledbetter is seen as symbolic of women’s rights and working-women issues — matters that concern the Democratic base. Also, as an employee who fought a company over pay, she may help woo undecided working-class voters.
While Ledbetter never got restitution from Goodyear, supporters of the Fair Pay Act say it empowers others to fight pay discrimination.
Earlier this year, Random House published Ledbetter’s book Grace and Grit: My Fight for Equal Pay and Fairness at Goodyear and Beyond. The cover features Ledbetter standing in front of stacks of tires
Ledbetter, now 74, filed a complaint against the Akron tire maker in the late 1990s over discrimination when she learned that she had been paid less than her male peers.
The case wound its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where, in 2007, the justices threw out her complaint. They said in a 5-4 ruling that she had failed to sue within the 180-day deadline after the first time Goodyear paid her less than her peers.
Congress stepped in, passing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act that said the 180-day limit starts with each paycheck a person receives.
Emily Martin, with the National Women’s Law Center in Washington, D.C., which advocates for equal pay and other issues, said that the center, as a nonpartisan group can’t weigh in on the “political dimensions” of Ledbetter’s talk.
She cheered Ledbetter getting a high-profile stage.
“We think that whenever she tells her story, it’s incredibly valuable,” said Martin, the center’s vice president and general counsel. “It helps people put a face on the continuing problem of pay discrimination. It helps people understand that there is still work to be done to make sure women aren’t shortchanged in the workplace.”
Goodyear spokesman Scott Baughman said Friday, when contacted about Ledbetter’s appearance: “This issue was settled more than five years ago. We don’t see a need to comment further.”
Goodyear said in 2009 that it believes the Fair Pay Act erodes an underlying principle of Title VII, a part of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, to encourage individuals to report concerns about discrimination promptly.
The company also said in 2009 that “while working for Goodyear, Ms. Ledbetter’s pay was comparable to other workers, including men, with similar performance and under comparable circumstances. … In fact, there was a judicial finding of no discrimination with respect to pay in the years just before she took an early retirement.”
Allie Brandenburger, a spokeswoman for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, said in an email: “The fact is that women have suffered disproportionally under President Obama, with women in the workplace enduring historic setbacks. Nearly 6 million women are unemployed and the poverty rate among women is at levels not seen in nearly two decades.”
Convention planners were still scheduling speakers late Friday and did not know which day Ledbetter will speak. The convention runs Tuesday through Thursday.
Katie Byard can be reached at 330-996-3781 or firstname.lastname@example.org.