Since there has been a lot of buzz around campus about the notion of sexism and examining what actually constitutes sexism, I thought this specific issue should be discussed here. In a Women’s Studies class I took last semester I learned about the Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company case, a case concerning a female employee of Goodyear who filed claims on the basis of sexual discrimination in the workplace. Lilly Ledbetter, a 19 year employee of Goodyear, filed a claim that she was consistently brushed over for raises, receiving lower rankings and a lower salary than her other employees due to her gender. So, Ledbetter sued Goodyear for gender discrimination claiming that the company was in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In court, Ledbetter was awarded more than $3.5 million, later reduced to $360,000 by a District judge. Goodyear then appealed the court’s decision, citing that Title VII has a 180 day limitation to file claims on the basis of discrimination. Going all the way to the Supreme Court, a 5-4 vote ruled that Ledbetter's claim was time-barred under the Title VII 180 day limitation.
You can find a more in-depth description of the case from the Washington Post Article, “Over Ginsburg's Dissent, Court Limits Bias Suits.”
Justice Ginsburg, along with numerous others, were appalled by the court’s reading of the Title VII filing limitations, claiming the decision of Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company worked to undermine women’s rights. Much dissent over the decision was based on the notion that the statute failed to address the reality of worker discrimination when the discrimination occurs in increments, making it impossible to see pay disparities within a 180-day period of first receiving a pay check. In Ms. Ledbetter’s case, her lack of knowledge regarding what others were paid, made it impossible for her to realize she was being discriminated against within a 180 day period of her first pay check.
But, whether or not you agree or disagree with the Supreme Court’s findings, I thought it was interesting to look at the reactions and responses of women’s rights activists in Washington, DC… in this case, Senators. Upset by the decision in the Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire, Senators such as Edward Kennedy decided to sponsor a bill called the Fair Pay Restoration Act, also known as the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. The bill, which if passed would reverse the decision of Ledbetter v. Goodyear, was strategically introduced to the Senate a day after Equal Pay Day. The media attention due to the controversy of the court ruling combined with the significance of having a bill extending worker’s rights proposed to be passed on Equal Pay Day was a perfect example of the creative ability to promote your cause through non-violent means. Senator Kennedy also made sure his Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee released a report only a week earlier, which demonstrated the great economic risk that women face in the workforce due to statistics indicating that in the past year, women’s real wages decreased by 3 percent compared to the .5 % decrease for men’s wages.
Although the Senate failed to cut off debate on the bill and bring it to the floor for a vote, the strategic timing also stirred the attention of both democratic presidential candidates, convincing both Hillary Clinton and Barrack Obama to take a short recess from their campaigns in order to vote for the bill.