Lilly Ledbetter: Activist and Equal Rights Trailblazer

lilly ledbetter speaking at forbes womens summit

Lilly Ledbetter has long advocated for equal rights in the workplace, and her legacy includes the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, which seeks to mitigate discriminatory compensation based on gender.

In 1968, Lilly Ledbetter began her career as an associate with H&R Block. By the mid-1970s, she was an office manager and later, the Assistant Director-Financial Aid at Jacksonville State University in Jacksonville, Alabama.

From 1979 until her retirement in 1998, Lilly worked predominantly with males in her role as area manager for Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. Although she initially earned a salary commensurate to her counterparts, her pay remained minimal as her co-workers’ wages grew; by the end of 1997, Lilly was the only remaining female in that position, and the discrepancy in pay had become palpable. The only female area manager by that point, she was paid $3,727/month while the lowest-earning male in the position was paid $4,286/month and the highest-earning male, $5,236/month.

She sued Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., but the Supreme Court ultimately denied her case, citing the expired 180-day statute of limitations since she had received her first discriminatory paycheck. In 2009, however, the 111th Congress passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which states that the 180-day statute of limitations applies not only to the first paycheck received, but to all of the paychecks affected by discriminatory action as well.

Passage of the law was a victory for Lilly and the entire country as we move toward equality in the workplace, and so it was a true honor to talk with her at the May 2016 Forbes Women’s Summit in New York City. The event, co-sponsored by the Forbes School of Business & Technology™ at Ashford University, featured hundreds of women from various industries: technology, business, entertainment, education, media, and philanthropy, to name a few.

Lilly sat down to speak with Forward Thinking on women’s equality and how equal pay benefits not just the individual, but also businesses; equal pay means more dollars invested in the economy overall. She explained, “If my employer compensates me properly, I’m going to buy more goods. I’m going to spend that money. I’ll turn it around. I might save 10% towards savings, towards retirement, but I’m going to spend the majority of it on my family.”

She added, “It means to a family that you can take your kids to the movies today and pay for their college later. It means you can pay your rent today and pay for a mortgage later. In the meantime, you save and build a retirement. That’s what it’s about.”



Written by Kelsey Bober, Content Manager for Bridgepoint Education.



LEDBETTER v. GOODYEAR TIRE & RUBBER CO., No. 05-1074, decided May 2007.

Ledbetter, L. M., & Isom, L. S. (2012). Grace and grit: My fight for equal pay and fairness at Goodyear and beyond. New York: Crown Archetype.

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