Read the Personal Biography of Lilly Ledbetter

January 29, 2009: President Obama signs the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act into law 01/29/09.
••• Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Lilly McDaniel was born in April 1938. She married Charles Ledbetter and together they had two children: Vicky and Phillip Charles, who both married and had children of their own.

Her husband, CSM Charles J. Ledbetter (U.S. Army ret.), was a highly-decorated veteran. Sadly, he passed away December 11, 2008, at the age of 73 and did not live long enough to see President Obama signed The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 into law on January 29, 2009. Now 70, Lilly lives in Jacksonville, Alabama on a small pension and like many Americans worries about losing her home.

Lilly Ledbetter, a Humble, New American Icon

Lilly Ledbetter was employed by Goodyear Tire and Rubber for nineteen years before she discovered that she was paid far less for the same work as her male peers were being paid. She filed a lawsuit against Goodyear, and after a long legal battle, her case was ultimately decided by the U.S. Supreme Court; she lost.

The Supreme Court stated she had taken too long to file a complaint. This decision, which made it easier for employers to get away with wage discrimination practices, would become a hotly contested legal issue by both Democrats and Republicans: McCain had "Joe the Plumber" and Obama had "Lilly Ledbetter."

A Hard Worker Despite Tough Conditions

From 1979 to 1998 Lilly worked tirelessly at a Goodyear plant on an overnight shift from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. where she was subjected daily to sexual discrimination and harassment. She received a "Top Performance Award" in 1996, but her raises never matched her performance and were not in line with those given to men.

In 2007, she testified before Congress about her EEOC complaint about a supervisor who demanded sexual favors if she wanted good job performance reviews. He was reassigned, but asserting her rights only made things worse and led to isolation, further sexual discrimination, and retaliation against Ledbetter.

Lilly's Anonymous Angel

Lilly signed a contract with her employer that she would not discuss pay rates with other workers. She had no way of knowing that she was being underpaid until just before her retirement when a source that remains anonymous today slipped a note into her mailbox. The note listed the salaries of three other men doing the same who were paid $4,286 to $5,236 per month. Lilly was only making $3,727 per month. When she filed a complaint with the EEOC, she was subsequently assigned to lift heavy tires. She was in her 60s at the time, but she continued to perform the tasks her ruthless employer required of her.

Why It Mattered?

Lilly had no idea she was being underpaid. She was prohibited from asking about or talking about pay wages. She did not have tangible evidence until she was ready to retire 19 years into her employment that she was being cheated.

Ultimately, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that to have legal standing, a person must file a complaint within 180 of the first discriminatory pay practice - even if they did not know about it until much later. This allowed employers to get away with underpaying workers based on color, sex, or other discriminatory reasons as long as workers did not know about it and take legal immediate action.

A Selfless Cause

Ledbetter played an important role speaking to politicians, Congress, and even Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in an effort to persuade the need for change. John McCain and Sarah Palin both agreed with the U.S. Supreme Court decision (McCain did not support fair pay acts that would legislate equal pay for women). McCain also made negative statements about Ledbetter's cause and even deemed the proposed legislation a "trial lawyer's dream."

Ledbetter, a humble woman, challenged laws that did not protect workers from discrimination even though she herself would never directly benefit from her efforts.

In Lilly's Own Words

In an April 22, 2008 blog post Lilly wrote the following entry:

"I am in Washington this week, going from Senate office to Senate office to build support for the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act - legislation that bears my name. I would never have guessed this is what I would be doing at this point in my life!"I worked hard at Goodyear, and was good at my job. But with every paycheck, I got less than I deserved and less than the law says I am entitled to.
"It [the Supreme Court decision] was a step backward, and a terrible decision not just for me but for all the women who may have to fight wage discrimination."

Lilly Ledbetter Cannot Benefit From the New Law, But Other Women Can

Lilly Ledbetter’s case against Goodyear cannot be re-tried, and the new law she helped to pass will not get her restitution from Goodyear.

Lilly reports at age 70 she still lives “paycheck to paycheck” (her retirement wages are based on the discriminatory wages she was paid). "I will be a second-class citizen for the rest of my life... It affects every penny I have today."​(1)

But as she headed to Washington, D.C. for the signing of the new law bearing her name she enthusiastically stated, "I'm just thrilled that this has finally passed and sends a message to the Supreme Court: You got it wrong."(2)

Time Line of Legal Events in Lilly Ledbetter vs. Goodyear

  • 1979 - November 1998: Lilly worked as an area manager for Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company at its Gadsden, Alabama plant.March 1998: Ledbetter submitted a questionnaire to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) inquiring about salaries.
  • July 1998: Submitted formal EEOC charge. Two key claims asserted by Ledbetter: a Title VII pay discrimination claim and a claim under the Equal Pay Act of 1963 (EPA), 29 U. S. C. §206(d).After she filed a complaint, Ledbetter, then in her 60's, was reassigned to lift heavy tires; clearly an act of retribution by Goodyear.
    The District Court allowed some of Ledbetter's claims, including her Title VII pay discrimination claim to proceed to trial. But the District Court granted summary judgment in favor of Goodyear on several of her claims, including her Equal Pay Act claim.
  • November 1998: Ledbetter retired early and filed suit "asserting, among other things, a sex discrimination claim under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964."A jury awarded Ledbetter about $3.3 million, but the amount was later reduced to around $300,000.
  • November 2006 - May 2007: Goodyear appealed to the U.S. Supreme court who overturned the lower court's ruling in favor of Goodyear. In a 5-4 vote, it was decided that Ledbetter was not entitled to compensation because she filed her claim more than 180 days after receiving her first discriminatory paycheck. (Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., 550 U.S. 618; R048; No. 05-1074; Argued 11/27/06; Decided 05/29/07.
  • January 2009: The battle continued with several bills being introduced to change the law. On January 29, 2009, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 was signed into law by President Barack Obama.

Lilly's husband, Charles, passed away in December 2008, shortly before the bill was passed into law.


(1)Birmingham News, January 23, 2009
(2)Birmingham News, January 28, 2009