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Posts Tagged ‘Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act’

On October 9, I had the honor of hearing Lilly Ledbetter speak on my campus, St. Cloud State University. Ledbetter’s story is an inspiring one. After 19 years of working at Goodyear Tire and Rubber in Alabama as a production manager, a note was slipped into her mailbox revealing a startling pay gap between her and three male colleagues in the same position. Despite knowing that taking the corporation to court would be a long, uphill battle that would likely not lead to the compensation she was owed, she sued Goodyear. “It wasn’t about me anymore,” she said. “It was about my daughter, my granddaughter, and the women and families in this nation.” Her case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, and in 2007, after nine years of fighting, she received the final verdict. She lost because of an unreasonably short statute of limitations that would have required her to file suit years before she even knew she was being paid unfairly.

But her story did not end there. Ledbetter became the namesake for the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which was the first bill signed into law by President Obama in 2009. The bill righted the wrong of the Supreme Court decision by allowing the statute of limitations to reset with every discriminatory paycheck.

As I sat in the audience listening to this strong woman share her story, two things happened to me. First, I was humbled by how much women in the past have achieved to guarantee me certain rights. Second, I was inspired to do the same for future generations of women. I think that my generation often does not take the time to learn about the influential women in our country’s history. I feel that young women believe the struggles of the past are over, when in fact they are far from complete. Even today, women’s median earnings are still only 77 percent of men’s, which accounts for huge losses in income, retirement savings, and Social Security benefits over a lifetime of work. But Ledbetter’s speech appeared to raise students’ awareness. Through the question-and-answer session following the speech, you could hear people expressing their outrage at what happened to her and their demand to change what is still occurring today.

St. Cloud State University has been making great strides to bring inspiring programming to young women. At the SCSU Women’s Center, where I work, we strive to empower women, increase awareness, and develop programming to support those principles on our campus. Our mission statement speaks to these ideals: “With passion and purpose to end sexist oppression, the Women’s Center promotes a safe, inclusive, and engaged community through advocacy, education, alliance-building, and women’s leadership.”

My hope is that by bringing speakers like Ledbetter to campus, our generation will have a greater appreciation for past struggles and those who fought them. I also hope that when someone from my generation is faced with a situation where she has to decide whether to stand up for herself, she will think like Ledbetter: “I knew that the only choice I had was to stand up for myself and do what was right. I understood the risk I was taking. It would surely be the hardest fight of my life, and there were no guarantees I’d win. … But as I ruminated, I realized I had no other choice.”

This post was written by Bre Moulder, a St. Cloud State University sophomore majoring in political science and women’s studies. St. Cloud State University is an AAUW college/university partner member.

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Editor’s note: Today, the House of Representatives voted 233-180 against considering the Paycheck Fairness Act, and the Senate is also expected to vote on the bill next week. This post is adapted from the statement that Lilly Ledbetter submitted to the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee on Wednesday.

Nobody wants to be the poster child for unequal pay for equal work, but that’s just what happened to me. Five years ago this week, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against me in my sex discrimination case against Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company. In that 5-4 ruling, the justices took away everything a jury of my peers had awarded me after being unfairly paid for years — even my back pay.

The court said I should have complained every time I got a smaller raise than the men, even if I didn’t know what the men were getting paid and even if I had no way to prove the decision was discriminatory. In other words, the court said if you don’t figure things out right away, a company can treat you like a second-class citizen for the rest of your career.

I won’t lie to you — I was pretty devastated by that decision. But instead of taking it quietly, I’ve been fighting back from the moment the court made its ruling. In 2009, President Barack Obama corrected this injustice by making the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act the first bill he signed into law. This law allows people to challenge every discriminatory paycheck they receive — it’s just common sense when you think about it.

But my legislation was only one stop on the road to fair pay. I’m on the front lines again, advocating for another bill that will bring us even closer to the dream of equal pay for equal work: the Paycheck Fairness Act. The Paycheck Fairness Act faces a critical vote in the Senate next week, and I’m so heartened to see the House making its own noise on an issue that is so near and dear to my heart.

The Paycheck Fairness Act is the first update to the 1963 Equal Pay Act since it was passed almost 50 years ago. You won’t find a stronger supporter of this bill than me. Why? Because it takes real steps to create stronger incentives for employers to follow the law, deterring pay discrimination before it even starts. Better still, these same steps reflect many of the common practices that other civil rights laws have used for years — bringing the Equal Pay Act into the 21st century while at the same time utilizing principles that are familiar to businesses. With the extension of these reasonable and familiar ideas, we can treat both businesses and women fairly. Take it from me, women don’t want to go to court — we’d much prefer that everyone just follow the law in the first place!

The bill would also establish new training and research initiatives and create education programs to help both employers and employees prevent situations like mine from ever happening at all. This bill would also strengthen federal outreach and enforcement efforts, helping to empower women to negotiate for equal pay.

From my perspective, one of the most important provisions of the bill would prohibit retaliation against workers who ask about employers’ wage practices or disclose their own wages to others. This provision would have been particularly helpful to me because Goodyear prohibited me and my colleagues from discussing or sharing information about our wages. They made it clear we could be fired if we did — and this was perfectly legal! This old-school policy delayed my discovery of the pay inequities between me and my male co-workers by almost 20 years. I only learned the details thanks to an anonymous tip I received shortly before my retirement. I still don’t know who sent me that note. They have been wise to stay silent because they could still be fired for sharing that simple truth with me.

I may have lost my personal battle, but I refuse to lose the war. I’m still fighting for all the other women and girls out there who deserve equal pay and equal treatment under the law. I need your help, because my law is just a down payment. I urge you to join me and my friends at AAUW to take action and tell your senators to move the Paycheck Fairness Act forward and pass a strong bill that will help women and their families.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Giving women my Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act without the Paycheck Fairness Act is like giving them a nail without the hammer.

This post was written by fair pay advocate and friend of AAUW Lilly Ledbetter.


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It’s the $tart $mart salary negotiation workshop attendees’ “aha!” moments that keep me coming back as a facilitator.

“I never knew that I could look up a job’s worth on the web!”

“I always thought that negotiation was a battle of wills that I could not win. I’m surprised to learn that it can be a calm discussion about mutual benefit for employer and employee.”

“Aha! It’s not about me. It’s about a job — and it has a fair-market value.”

$tart $mart, a collaboration between AAUW and the WAGE Project, is real-time, boots-on-the-ground empowerment of college women. The program teaches them solid compensation benchmarking and negotiation skills to close gender-based pay gaps — starting with their first jobs after graduation. Eyes aglow and mouths agape with new and surprising knowledge, workshop attendees renew my vigor for the fight for fair pay.

I became a certified $tart $mart facilitator at a training at the 2009 AAUW National Convention in St. Louis. After seeing the workshop’s content, I wished I’d learned those skills many years ago. Since then, I’ve transferred the negotiation skills to interpersonal relationships, business contract negotiations, and a car purchase. And I continue to assist with the $tart $mart initiative in Colorado, where we now have a cadre of 13 certified facilitators.

Early on, the Women’s Foundation of Colorado purchased a $tart $mart semester license for the University of Denver. Later, the AAUW student organization at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs, bought a license for their campus. But a tough higher-education budget crunch precluded hosting $tart $mart workshops on most campuses in our state. The time came for out-of-the-box thinking.

After seeing the value of $tart $mart and wanting to train as many Colorado college women as possible, the AAUW of Colorado Board of Directors voted to purchase a three-year license for Metropolitan State College of Denver, one of Colorado’s seven AAUW college/university partner members. Under the deal we struck, Metro State serves as the centrally located host campus, and all students who attend Colorado colleges and universities are eligible to participate. We’re three semesters into our $tart $mart project, and we have taught women from several different campuses. Attendees have spread the word back home, which has prompted a few higher-education institutions to consider $tart $mart licenses for their own campuses — often with financial assistance from nearby AAUW branches.

As we approach Equal Pay Day on April 17, we as equity advocates may feel battle fatigue because the AAUW fight for equal pay has been a long one — in fact, it dates back to 1913, when AAUW researched gender-based pay disparities in the U.S. Civil Service. In 1922, AAUW called for a reclassification of the U.S. Civil Service and a repeal of salary restrictions in the Women’s Bureau. In 1955, we backed the first federal legislative proposal for pay equity — a bill introduced by Reps. Edith Green (D-OR) and Edith Rogers (R-MA) that required “equal pay for work of comparable value requiring comparable skills.” We then advocated for passage of the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and a swath of state-level fair pay and wage transparency bills. We were instrumental in securing the 2009 passage of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which restored the spirit of U.S. pay discrimination laws after a wrongheaded 2007 U.S. Supreme Court decision. And today, we continue to press for the passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act to close loopholes in the Equal Pay Act.

Need to get your second wind? Get involved with the $tart $mart salary negotiation workshop initiative as a facilitator, campus recruiter, or funder. Let attendees’ “aha!” moments fire up your fervor for fair pay!

This post was written by AAUW Director-at-Large Amy Blackwell.

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“No botox, no detox. My name is Loretta Ford, and I approve this message.”

So ended the speech of 91-year-old Ford as she accepted her induction into the National Women’s Hall of Fame along with 10 others last weekend in Seneca Falls, New York.

The tone of her remarks was unexpected, yet they captured the essence of the ceremony — the spirit, excitement, and passion of women who have changed the world and aren’t done yet.

Sitting in a room with these women who have shaped — indeed, are shaping — major areas of our lives was enthralling, and AAUW was proud to be there to celebrate the role four of them have played in our mission.

First, there was Helen Murray Free, a national member of AAUW who was honored for her contributions to medicine. Echoing many of the honorees’ sentiments, Free said she hadn’t set out to change people’s lives — it was a serendipitous accident.

“In September 1941, I was going to the College of Wooster to be a Latin and English teacher. Then Pearl Harbor happened in December, and the fellas all left to join the Navy and the Air Force,” Free said. “One night, the house mother came in and said, ‘Helen, you’re taking chemistry and getting good grades … why don’t you switch?’ And I just said OK. I fell in love with chemistry, and it was wonderful.”

Fast forward six years later, and Free had a degree chemistry, a job at Miles Laboratories, and a husband who would become her partner in changing lives. The Frees soon became a powerhouse in medical diagnostics — their research led to the first dip-and-read diagnostic test strips.

And that was just one inspiring AAUW story.

Donna Shalala, who under President Bill Clinton became the longest-serving U.S. secretary of health and human services, was also inducted. Early in her career, AAUW gave her a young scholar award.

“It was critical money and a critical award and a critical trajectory,” Shalala remembered. “I loved the fact that they intervened in my career, and it made a real difference. AAUW helped me network. I met amazing people as a result.”

Thrillingly, Lilly Ledbetter was also among the inductees. A close friend to AAUW and a newly published author, Ledbetter has been a crucial figure in the fair pay campaign, from her Supreme Court case to the bill named in her honor to the lingering Paycheck Fairness Act.

“When I set out in my career in 1979, it wasn’t part of my grand plan to someday have my name in the Supreme Court or on an act of Congress. I simply wanted to work hard and support my family. The rest, I believed, would take care of itself,” she said during her acceptance speech.

Fellow inductee Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), a critical ally to Ledbetter and AAUW in the fair pay struggle, spoke to me before the ceremony about change-making women.

“It’s a great honor to be picked and join [more than] 240 other women who made a difference in science, politics, civil rights, medicine,” she said. “Every one lived in their time and seized the power that is now. When Rosa Parks sat down, the whole world stood up. It’s carpe diem.”

Mikulski believes AAUW plays an important role in making that happen. “Young people need someone to believe in them,” she said. “Some people have family that will believe in them. Not everyone has that supportive adult that tells you, ‘You can do it, and I can help you.’ It makes a difference to do that in young people’s lives. AAUW today is making that difference.”

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I remember being totally into spy stories as a kid. I had grand visions of breaking codes, sneaking into enemy territory, and saving the world. I did look into it during college but was told it was virtually impossible for a woman (as later described by Nora Slatkin, former executive director of the CIA, in her 1996 “Women in CIA” speech). My career interests changed dramatically as I started my lifelong path among nonprofits, still changing the world, but overtly.

The reason this came to mind recently was a story my sister-in-law told me while visiting Washington, D.C., a few weeks ago. She took one of those tourist boat trips and heard the story of the men-only elevator put in the Washington Monument when it was first built in the 1800s. Powered by a steam engine, it took 20 minutes to get to the top. Tea and wine were served to the male riders, while women and children were relegated to walking those 897 steps and 50 landings.

Her story got us reminiscing about men-only roadblocks we faced, like my almost-CIA job. She’s worked in the advertising arena for many years, so you can imagine the “old-boy” stories she remembers. We reflected on the men-versus-women pay differences experienced during our various career climbs (and that it felt like 897 steps at times). We then served ourselves tea and wine while lamenting the thousands of lost salary dollars due to pay inequality and toasted to the progress women have made. I caught her up on AAUW’s efforts on Capitol Hill, both on our victory with the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and our ongoing fight for the Paycheck Fairness Act on behalf of all women.

If you are visiting D.C. this summer, be sure to check out the National Museum of Women in the Arts (AAUW helped get them started); the Mary McLeod Bethune Council House National Historic Site, dedicated to the African American woman educator, presidential adviser, and political activist; the Clara Barton National Historic Site, which commemorates the life of the founder of the American Red Cross; and the Hillwood Estate, Museum, and Gardens, the former home of art collector and philanthropist Marjorie Merriweather Post.

Did I mention the National Women’s History Museum? If you are looking to visit this, forget it — the museum hasn’t yet received permission from Congress to buy land. Help AAUW support the organization working to secure permission for this privately financed museum near the National Mall.

Here’s one last recommendation for both women and men: Take time to visit one of the most fascinating museums in D.C. that celebrates the history of women’s progress toward equality, the Sewall-Belmont House and Museum. If you happen to be here on August 9, join AAUW at our Cocktails and Convos happy hour there from 5:30–7:30 p.m.

Do you have any for-men-only stories, whether they happened to you or that you learned from visiting somewhere? Do you have any favorite D.C. women-in-history places to recommend? Please share!

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Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN)

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN)

One of the most interesting moments from the third day of the Elena Kagan hearings had nothing to do with the hard-hitting questions asked by many senators. For her second round, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) gave us a brief history lesson on gender that we’d all do well to keep in mind. She pointed out that, as late as 1980, no women had ever served on the Supreme Court. If Kagan is confirmed, she will be the fourth, and the Supreme Court will have three women serving concurrently for the first time in history. Klobuchar also noted that, in 1980, no women served on the Senate Judiciary Committee (today there are two), and former Sen. Nancy Kassebaum (R-KS) was the only woman in the entire U.S. Senate (today there are 17 women).

We’ve come a long way, baby. Well, sort of. Less than 20 percent representation by women is better, but still not great.

As discussed yesterday, Kagan did very well in her first round of questions and answers. Several Republican members must have taken notice, because they really stepped up their pressure on her on many of the hot-button social issues we’ve come to expect at Supreme Court confirmation hearings. Much of their questioning revolved, yet again, around the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Policy,” which both Kagan and AAUW staunchly oppose. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) accused her of substituting her policy preferences for what the law required. However, Kagan pointed out that military recruiters at Harvard were still given access to law students in a way that satisfied the school’s antidiscrimination policy. She also pointed out that her personal opposition to the policy did not unduly influence her decision making during her time as solicitor general.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) pressed Kagan further on her views regarding “partial-birth” abortion and whether she attempted to pressure the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists to change a public statement on late-term abortion procedures. During her time as deputy director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, Kagan advised President Bill Clinton about legislation dealing with late-term abortion procedures. Specifically, she advocated in various memoranda that the Clinton administration support a compromise bill offered by then-Sen. Tom Daschle (D-SD) that would have banned post-viability abortions, with exceptions for both the life and health of the woman. She avowed that none of her actions were untoward, and she was acting in a manner consistent with a presidential adviser.

There was a lot thrown at Kagan today, but nothing has changed as far as the air of inevitability that surrounds her nomination. While some Judiciary Committee members such as Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) averred that a filibuster may still be a possibility, other staunch conservatives appear to believe otherwise. Republican Whip Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) said that a “filibuster would be highly improbable,” while Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), who doesn’t take a backseat to many others as far as conservative principles go, referred to her as “soon-to-be-Justice Kagan.”

Kagan completed her public portion of the hearings on Wednesday. The committee then proceeded with a customary private session that includes a discussion of her FBI background check and other documents not released to the public. The outside witnesses will proceed on Thursday afternoon, after funeral services for Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV).

At the conclusion of the open session, Sen. Pat Leahy (D-VT) commented that Kagan answered questions more directly and forcefully than any Supreme Court nominee in recent memory. Unless a heretofore unknown, earth-shattering revelation pops up in the next few weeks, it seems safe to say that the next time the American public sees Elena Kagan will be at her swearing-in ceremony.

Elena Kagan Confirmation Hearings: Preview | Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4

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Elena Kagan with Harvard Law School graduate Kyle Scherer

Elena Kagan with Harvard graduate Kyle Scherer

In 1995, Elena Kagan wrote in a book review that Supreme Court confirmation hearings were a “vapid and hollow charade.” Whatever your take on that observation, today she proved that they can also be funny. Responding to a question from Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) about where she was on Christmas (a lighthearted precursor to a line of questions about the foiled airplane bombing in late December 2009), Kagan replied, “Like all Jews, I was probably at a Chinese restaurant.” The normally staid observers in the committee room roared with laughter.

By at least one account, and probably several others, Solicitor General Kagan acquitted herself quite nicely on Tuesday — and not just with her dry wit. Over the course of the day, she fielded questions from senators on both sides of the aisle on many topics. The issues ranged from social policy — abortion, gun control, immigration, campaign finance reform, and others — to legal principles such as separation of powers, congressional intent, the due process clause, and stare decisis. You’d be hard-pressed to come up with any earth-shattering exchanges or bombshells, but a couple of newsworthy items did come to the forefront.

For starters, Kagan was pretty blunt in speaking about her politics. Several Republican senators, particularly Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), continued their attempt to portray her as a liberal political activist who would use a Supreme Court seat to craft social policy. Kagan debunked those claims forcefully. While not shying away from her political leanings — she described herself during the hearing as a lifelong Democrat who generally holds progressive views (which, of course, you might expect from someone who has worked in both the Clinton and Obama administrations) — she stated emphatically that as a judge her “politics would be, should be, have to be completely separate” from her role as a legal advocate.

As mentioned in our hearings preview, AAUW submitted a list of suggested questions, and some of our topics received some airtime on Tuesday. For instance, we were grateful to hear Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) discuss the injustices Lilly Ledbetter faced due to a lifetime of pay discrimination and the subsequent ruling by the Supreme Court that her previously successful lawsuit had no merit. Cardin also referenced the AAUW-supported Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, signed into law by President Obama in January 2009, which corrects the Supreme Court’s misguided decision. On reproductive rights, Kagan stated that women’s lives and health must be protected in any abortion-restriction legislation, citing a long line of Supreme Court precedents to that effect (with the sole exception of the late-term abortion procedure at issue in the Gonzales v. Carhart case). She further reiterated her view, supported by AAUW, that the “Don’t Ask , Don’t Tell” policy with respect to gays in the military was unfounded and should be repealed, while at the same time staunchly defending her record as dean of Harvard Law School regarding military recruitment on campus.

A full synopsis of the hearing explores the myriad issues Kagan discussed on Tuesday. By the end of the day, most senators on the panel had concluded their first round of questions. After that first round is completed today, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) will establish the parameters for a second round, if needed. On Wednesday or Thursday, several outside witnesses will speak about Kagan’s overall fitness for the position.

Check back tomorrow for our next update!

Elena Kagan Confirmation Hearings: Preview | Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4

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