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Besides having a really cool name, Lilly Ledbetter became a potent symbol during the presidential campaign of the fairness issues Democrats hoped to tackle if they won the White House.
Ledbetter, a former supervisor at a Goodyear tire plant in Alabama, sued the company after discovering several months before her 1998 retirement that, for years, she was paid less than her male counterparts. A jury awarded Ledbetter more than $3 million. But the Supreme Court overturned that judgment in March 2007, ruling 5-4 that a 180-day statute of limitation for her to file a lawsuit had started from the first instance of discrimination, meaning that her suit about more than a decade of discrimination was untimely.
The Democratic Congress took up Ledbetter's cause, drafting legislation that would set the clock running when the discriminatory action was discovered. But in April 2008, the Senate was unable to overcome a threat of filibuster. Then-candidate Obama even left the campaign trail to vote for the act; he later launched a mostly accurate attack against McCain for opposing the measure. Ledbetter appeared at the Democratic convention to praise Obama for supporting the measure, noting, "My case is over. I will never receive the pay I deserve. But there will be a far richer reward if we secure fair pay."
Obama included a vow to reverse the effects of the Ledbetter decision in a major campaign document, his "Blueprint for Change."
Fast forward to Jan. 29, 2009. President Obama signed the Ledbetter Act, saying, "Ultimately, equal pay isn't just an economic issue for millions of Americans and their families. It's a question of who we are and whether we're truly living up to our fundamental ideals." Promise Kept.
Library of Congress THOMAS, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 , accessed Jan. 29, 2009
U.S. Senate, Roll call vote on HR 2831, April 23, 2008
U.S. Supreme Court, Ledbetter vs. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., May 29, 2007
Lilly Ledbetter remarks at the Democratic National Convention , Aug. 26, 2008