US Companies and Politicians: Paying Women Less for the Same Work is A-OK as Long as It is Kept Secret

9 years ago

For almost 20 years, Lilly Ledbetter worked as a supervisor at a Goodyear Tire plant in Gadsden, AL. She was the only female supervisor in what Gail Collins (my favorite columnist) described as a "not exactly-female friendly environment." The Mighty Quinn pointed out on BlogHer that Ms. Ledbetter's salary began at the same level of her male co-workers when she was hired, but over the next two decades, she "received smaller raises and a substantial disparity grew. For years, she was paid between 15% and 40% less than her male counterparts on the management team..." Thanks to secrecy about salaries at the plant, Ledbetter did not realize that she was paid substantially less than her male counterparts - including ones with significantly less seniority than she had - until someone anonymously provided her with a list of salaries around the time she was retiring. As Ledbetter explained to Collins, "I was just emotionally let down when I saw the difference." Clearly, Goodyear Tire discriminated against Lilly Ledbetter because she was a woman.

According to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it is illegal to pay people based on their gender. Ms. Ledbetter offered to settle for the difference between her salary and the lowest-paid man's, but Goodyear refused. So Ledbetter did what any intelligent, wronged woman would do: she sued the pants off them. A jury awarded her $223,776 in back pay and more than $3 million in punitive damages. This was letter scaled down to only $300,000 due to caps on damages, but it still vindicated Ledbetter and made up for the fact that, as Ledbetter and Joan Blades explain at The Huffington post, "The discrimination continues today, because my pension and Social Security are based on my pay." Hurray! Justice is belatedly served. Right? Of course not. This is the US under the Bush administration.

Goodyear Tire, being good corporate citizens who want to do the right thing (ha ha ha), appeals the decision. The 11th Circuit Court, loaded with Bush appointees made during Congressional recesses after Democrats attempted to block his nominees, said that Ms. Ledbetter did file her claim in a time appropriate manner. See, ladies (and other people who are secretly discriminated against), we are supposed to use our infamous "woman's intuition" to know when a company is paying us less although everyone's salary is a secret (and as Mighty Quinn pointed out, "it's illegal to ask in many states" what co-workers' earn) so that we can lawfully file our complaints within 180 days after the pay is set. So, if like Lilly Ledbetter, you don't find out that you have been screwed for 19 years, it's your own damn fault for being so complacent, and you get bupkes (a Yiddish phrase ranging from "nothing, nada, zilch" to horse turds).

Fortunately, we have the Supreme Court to correct the deficiencies of lower courts. In normal modern times, this would be true. But these are not normal modern times, and of course, the Supreme Court is also loaded with people who have no interest in justice or equality these days. Thus, Ms. Ledbetter was chided in a 5-4 decision for not consulting psychics, breaking into the payroll department, or doing whatever else she could do to determine that she was paid unequally for her work. Bush appointee Sam Alito hated that companies that discriminate against people might be faced with "the burden of defending claims arising from employment decisions that are long past. (In other words, "the longer you discriminate, the less you should be held accountable for your actions, so do whatever you can to not get caught in the first six months!)

Where does this leave poor Ms. Ledbetter? Why, of course, with a legal bill (Goodyear Tire thoughtfully passed $3,165 in their court fees on to her to teach her a lesson - can you imagine a woman wanting equal pay for equal work?) and Congress. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which would rectify the idea that people who do not possess ESP have a right to sue within 180 days after learning that they have been discriminated against (as opposed to intuiting) passed the House, but Senate Republicans banded with psychics and stood their ground. To ensure that people have a fair chance at legal compensation, 60 votes were needed. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act when down in flames four votes short. (Hilzoy at Obsidian Wings has a link to the roll call votes if you'd like to thank your representative or politely inquire as to why they hate paying women fairly, depending on his/her vote. And don't forget that McCain missed the vote, but cheerfully told people during a speech that he would have opposed it, since women need "education and training" to pull them out of poverty, not actual paychecks.)

If you are thinking many things that involve four letter words and want to take more constructive action, there are a few options. First, in November, take some advice from The Savvy Sista and remember that no matter which Democrat is on the ballet, "A John McCain presidency will be nothing but a Bush III." You can also sign a petition and send McCain your resume at Moms Rising. (Totally brilliant!!!) I would also suggest that anyone who supports equal pay for equal work join Jackie and boycott Goodyear. This is truly putting our money where our mouths are: if Goodyear doesn't want to use their earnings to support the earnings of women, then they will get no money from other women.

One thing that the folks in power understand is money. If we don't make people pay for not paying, then there's no reason that companies or politicians will treat women fairly when it comes to compensation.

Suzanne also blogs about life at Campaign for Unshaved Snatch (CUSS) & Other Rants, about yogurt and pudding at Live Active Cultures, and about positive social change agents at Just Cause. She hereby publicly pledges to not buy Goodyear products for her PT Cruiser, and to not vote for John MCCain in November.

This is an article written by a member of the SheKnows Community. The SheKnows editorial team has not edited, vetted or endorsed the content of this post. Want to join our amazing community and share your own story? Sign up here.
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