WASHINGTON—The death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg provides a chance to look back on a high-profile case that pitted employee against employer and thrust the tire industry into the national spotlight.
It's a court battle that Lilly Ledbetter ultimately lost against Goodyear when the Supreme Court narrowly ruled 5-4 against her in her quest for equal pay.
Ginsburg's scathing rebuke in her dissenting opinion gained widespread coverage and ultimately lead to legislative action—passage of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act—to change federal employment laws.
"I thought my colleagues had errored—not just errored, but egregiously errored," Ginsburg said while speaking at Georgetown University Law Center in February 2020. "So the tagline of my dissent in the Lilly Ledbetter case was the ball is now in Congress' court to correct the error into which my colleagues have fallen."
Ginsburg, who died at age 87 on Sept. 18, did not mince words in her minority opinion.
"Ledbetter's evidence demonstrated that her current pay was discriminatorily low due to a long series of decisions reflecting Goodyear's pervasive discrimination against women managers in general and Ledbetter in particular. Ledbetter's former supervisor, for example, admitted to the jury that Ledbetter's pay, during a particular one-year period, fell below Goodyear's minimum threshold for her position," a portion of Justice Ginsburg's opinion reads.
Ledbetter worked as a supervisor in Goodyear's Gadsden, Ala., plant from 1979 until she retired in 1998. She learned late in her career she was being paid less and filed suit against the company shortly after she retired.
The case essentially was closed after after years of litigation when the highest court ruled Ledbetter did not file her lawsuit in a timely fashion. The ruling, which at the time indicated Ledbetter would have had to file suit within 180 days of her hiring, did not consider the merits of the complaint.
Ginsburg, who believed Ledbetter was discriminated against throughout her career, said the employee was harmed each time she received a paycheck. That would have allowed her to sue all along and still be within the 180-day limit.
The issue and Congressional action were so important to Ginsburg that a framed copy of the Ledbetter law hung in her office. It was sent by President Obama after he signed it into law in 2009, and Ledbetter had a chance to see that copy of her namesake law when she finally met Ginsburg in 2010.
They shared a hug when they met, Ledbetter said on an MSNBC interview.
"I'm just in awe of this lady, because she changed my life and she changed the country. With that dissent, she gave me the dignity to go on and go forward and to stand up for equal pay for equal work," Ledbetter said.
"That dissent has rode on and on in so many lives across this nation. I've heard a lot of their stories. And it's just awesome what she started with that dissent and changed the law," she said. "Yes, I lost my case. I shouldn't have. In fact, I should have been paid equally and fairly. But she changed all of that."