UW School of Law
Transcript: A Conversation with Lilly Ledbetter
Wednesday, March 3, 2010
Lawyers, law students, and law professors alike have a tendency when
discussing the abstract legal principles associated with a particular
case to forget that behind every case is a key ingredient. That
ingredient is a courageous litigant willing to seek a public
vindication of his or her statutory or constitutional rights.
In Ledbetter versus Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, despite the
presence of such a litigant, the U.S. Supreme Court in a five to four
decision narrowly construed the method for calculating the statute of
limitations under Title Seven of the Civil Rights Act in the case
involving a claim of discrimination in compensation based on sex.
effect of the decision was to deny the particular plaintiff in the case
redress, despite a jury finding that she had suffered millions of
dollars in damages as a result of wrongful discrimination. Now, the
Supreme Court did not have the last word on this issue. In 2009
Congress enacted, and the President signed into law, what is known as
the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009. What the act did was to
overturn the Supreme Court's interpretation of Title Seven and replace
it with a broader definition that makes it easier for those
discriminated against in compensation based on color, race, religion,
sex, or national origin to vindicate their rights in court.
afternoon, everyone. My name is Peter Nicolas, Associate Dean of the
Law School. On behalf of Dean Testy, the entire faculty of the School
of Law, and the University of Washington Women's Center - which is a
co-host of this event - it's my pleasure to welcome you to a public
conversation between Lilly Ledbetter - the courageous litigant in the
civil rights struggle that culminated in the act that's named after her
- and Eric Schnapper - a long time member of our faculty and an expert
on civil rights law and Supreme Court litigation.
in front of me is Lilly Ledbetter who managed to make it here today
from the East, despite weather related flight cancellations. She really
wanted to have an opportunity to speak with you. For those not familiar
with the facts of the case, Ms. Ledbetter had worked for nearly 20
years at the Goodyear Tire Plant in Gadsden, Alabama when she
discovered, through an anonymous note left in her mailbox, that her pay
for those 20 years that she'd been working at Goodyear was
significantly less than those of her male counterparts who were doing
the exact same work.
Her tireless fight for pay equity protection
from the trial court in this case all the way through to Congress, that
is an inspiration, and it's the reason we've brought her here today. So
I'd like to ask you to please join me in welcoming Ms. Ledbetter here
Seated over here to my left, for those who don't know him, is my
colleague Eric Schnapper. He's been a member of the University of
Washington Law School faculty since 1995. He teaches courses in civil
rights, civil procedure, and employment discrimination. Prior to
joining the faculty, he spent 25 years as assistant counsel for the
NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, where he specialized in
appellate litigation and legislative activities. His experience before
the Supreme Court is overwhelming. He's briefed and argued more cases
than most lawyers have read. I think somewhere around the order of 70
cases before the US Supreme Court that he's either briefed or argued,
and most recently won three high profile cases.
So certain was I that Professor Schnapper was the attorney in this
particular case just based on his extensive background in civil rights
litigation of this sort, and so certain was I that Ms. Ledbetter had
actually won the case - both because her claim seemed so obviously
valid, and because I know of Professor Schanpper's enviable track
record - that when I was asked to do the introduction initially I
didn't really look at the facts I just started writing what I thought
my initial introduction was going to be, behind every civil rights
success are two key ingredients, a courageous litigant and a gifted
attorney. Then, of course, I found out that she didn't win the case, so
I had to revise my introduction. So it was something like, behind some
civil rights successes are two key ingredients, a courageous litigant -
that's the constant - and a gifted attorney, but perhaps not gifted
enough to persuade Justice Kennedy, although blessed with good
connections on Capitol Hill.
Then, of course, I found out that
Professor Schnapper was not the one involved in the case, only because
he had a pre-existing conflict, which led to my final introduction of
my esteemed colleague, which is behind every civil rights defeat is a
key ingredient, a courageous litigant who should have instead been
represented by Eric Schnapper.
And with that, it's my great honor to turn the stage over to both Ms.
Ledbetter and to Professor Schnapper for this exciting conversation
both about the case and the legislative aftermath.
Thank you, Peter. I was hoping we could perhaps start with a
description from you about what the problems were that had happened
over the years. I think that much of the country at times forgets that
we really still have problems with discrimination. Tom Perez, who was
the head of the Civil Rights Division, was right here about 10 days ago
talking about that. So before we get into the history of the case, you
could describe what the pay practices were that you finally realized
were at play in where you worked.
Actually, when I hired in it didn't take long for me to figure out that
they had a lot of problems, because a lot of my co-managers, my peers,
and then the people above me, they would say, "You really don't need to
be in Goodyear in that job."
I said, "Why?" "Well, you're a woman."
I said, "Well what's a woman
got to do with it?" Well, I knew that I had problems early on. The
other problem was, that I realized very quickly, was I looked around
and there were so few women there working in the job that I have, or
even in the factory. So I knew that there had been a limit that
Goodyear, really basically evidently, only wanted very few, just the
When they left the job and went on to another
job, another company, they seemed to like it. That sort of had told me
a story. Then there were a lot of things that went on in the job from
my superiors' remarks, and cussing, and discriminatory things, that I
knew they shouldn't be. That was against the law, that that shouldn't
happen. I had a case even based on that at any point in time if I had
But I didn't hire in at Goodyear to have a lawsuit.
It was never my ambition in life to have a lawsuit. I only wanted the
opportunity to work and earn a living for me and my family. That's all
I ever wanted. But I realized that maybe I could be a trailblazer, a
maverick so to speak, set the record right where a woman could run that
Was your impression that the attitude towards women was present
throughout management of the plant you were at? Or was it just a couple
of the guys? How widespread did it seem to be?
It's widespread because even when the plant manager's position turned
over, and we got one of the former Gadsden people back in Gadsden,
Alabama, he stood up in front of a crowd as large as this one and said,
and pointed at me and said, "We don't need women in this factory,
because all you do is cause trouble. We just don't need damn women
here." That is exactly what he said.
They had no idea how much trouble.
They had no idea. No idea.
How far back in time was that remark?
That experience occurred probably in the late '90's. But I hired in there in February of 1979.
What did you ultimately come to understand about what was happening
about how much your were being paid and how much for the men were being
Well, it was a top secret because when I hired in and filled out my
withholding statements in human resources the secretary said, "Now you
understand that you're to not discuss your pay or you won't work here."
And then the training manager who was over the five of us that were
hired together, either through promotion or hired in, he said the same
said, "Now, Lilly, you understand never discuss your pay with anyone,
not even Hill Mayfield, " who at that time was in HR. And I found that
to be sort of questionable. Why would he tell me not to discuss it with
this man who works in Human Resources. He should have access to it.
was always a question in my mind, but I never brought it up and never
said anything about it. But I was told by two different people never
discuss my pay and no one ever did in that factory.
One of the, when the controversy about this got to the Supreme Court,
one of the points that I think one of the dissenters made and certain
was part of the public conversation was that that was not uncommon that
a lot of employers certainly discouraged people from talking about how
much they made.
When the folks in the equal rights community talked about this, one of
the things we realized was that although there are statutes that
protect you from retaliation for opposing discrimination on the basis
of gender, they wouldn't protect you if you asked how much the men were
making, because of the way they are written.
the men are actually making more or you're already know the men are
making more, if you ask how much the men are making you could be fired
for that, legally. So it's a bad, it's a serious loophole in the law.
What did you also come to understand had been going on about salaries and raises over the years you were there?
Well, when I got the anonymous tip which was my name and three men's
name, just first names, base pay, written on that little torn piece of
paper, it didn't take me long until it just hit me like a ton of
bricks. And I felt so devastated but it also real quick told me how
much less I had been earning through the years based on my overtime.
See, first line managers at Goodyear we were paid time and a half,
doubt time, triple time depending on the hours and circumstance.
That's a really good idea.
Because we were required to work a lot of hours when my peer had a
heart attack, I worked two solid months, 12 hour shifts, every night,
several nights a week. And when he took eight weeks of vacation every
year, I filled in for him. And it was understood that we just had to
work. So that was a lot of overtime hours.
And then it also, half way through that night it occurred to me that my
retirement is based on what I'm earning, my contributory retirement and
my 401K is all based on what I'm earning and today my Social Security
And how did that happen? Was the difference the result of difference in
the base pay you started with or raises over the years or some
combination or did that become clear through the litigation?
OK, my base pay started out the same as the men. And we stayed the same
until two years into my tenure. And then Goodyear decided in 1981 that
they would go to what they called a "Pay for performance." I called it
the old white boys' pay system because they divvied up the money
looking back over the years and the records when we got into discovery,
my attorney and I. I learned that a lot of years I was paid even below
the minimum for that job, which I didn't know. I had no way of knowing.
And also it cost me so much for me and my family and how much less my
family had to do without and how hard it made my life at my house
because of that. But it went way back. I got raises some years, some
years I didn't. Some years they seemed good but I had no way of knowing
if they were sufficient and what the men were getting.
had no way of knowing. And my pay started, in 1981 when they went to
that "pay for performance" that's when my pay started burying and
dropping. In fact, I got one raise once that my boss when he told me
about it he laughed. He thought it was funny. He said by the time they
get finished out taxes you'll be taking home less than you are now.
he found it to be funny. I discovered that what had happened through
the years after they went to that system, I never got any money hardly
after that. And the men continued to get it and when, and you know
this, that when an individual's pay gets low you can never catch up.
mean, you know, I can get 10% and you could be getting 5%, as that male
and I still can't catch up, because 10% of hardly nothing is nothing
and 5% of a lot is a lot. You know? You can do the math. I've done it
in a lot of different circumstances and you can't catch up once you get
out of... And Goodyear did not do regular evaluations.
did evaluations in Gadsden when they were having a layoff. When it got
time for a cut, if the plant was cutting back they do evaluations and
of course, they know exactly how they were going to go because they
knew who they wanted to cut.
Looking back over what you learned through discovery, would you get
small raises every year? Were there some years you did OK, compared to
the men and some years not?
No, I never, compared to the men, when we looked at it in discovery, I
never measured up. Never. I mean, of course the largest raise I ever
got was when they gave me the top performance award in 1996. And my
boss said on the stand...See Goodyear tried to say at trial that I was
a poor performer. But he said at trial that he only gave me the top
performance award because that was the only way he could give me a big,
But the judge said, "Oh, so you realized that you were discriminating
against her" and that sort of pushed that conversation up.
Did you end up in a situation where men who were hired after you into
the work, who you would have trained, also ultimately came to make more
than you did?
Absolutely. In fact, when the judge and the court calculated my two
years' back pay, they took the lowest paid person in the tire room
where I was working at the time and he had just transferred in from a
much lower paying job. He was in quality control, not supervising or
managing any production or any people. And he transferred in to that
job and he was already making almost $500 more than I was making.
How did you find your way to the lawyers and into them representing you? Excellent lawyers, by the way.
From the point at which you realized you had this problem how did you find that lawyers that you worked with?
I started asking because I knew that I needed a lawyer that could take
my case pro bono that was very good. And because I worked like most
middle America families do, paycheck to paycheck and I mean I had a
little savings but it wasn't enough to even be a retainer for the
lawyer that I got.
And I found John Goldfarb in Birmingham and I put together everything
that I could find. He was with the firm had a different name at the
time, but Bob Wiggins started that firm. I put together everything that
I had and when I went to his office, I carried it because I had to sell
him on my case.
see it just burned in my body. I could not let this go, because when
this all occurred with me I was age 60. And I just couldn't let it go.
it was not right. That's not right. And to be done the way I had been
done, for 19 years and cheat me out of what I had been entitled to
under the law, that I had been entitled to under the law that I had
earned. I was legally entitled to it, and they gave it to somebody
else. I just couldn't let it go.
And when you, well, first went in and started talking to John, was he
sympathetic? Was he skeptical? Was he worried about whether he could
make a living taking these kind of cases?
John is not a sympathetic person. He's all business. And he listened to
me, and he said, "Let me look at it." And I believe, if I remember it
correctly, I had an appointment to go back. And he said, "I've looked
at your case." He said, "I'm going to take it."
He said, "Now, you understand that whatever we get, my firm gets 50%."
I said, "As far as I'm concerned, you can have it all." I said, to me,
it's about what was right. Because I'll tell you this, professor: when
I went into this, it was never about the money for me. At that point in
my life, I had missed the chance to have that money when I should have
had it for my family, and now it was about what was right. I just had
to do what was right for me.
And as the case went forward, of course, the early years were involved
in discovery. How involved were you in that? I mean did...
Did you -
Tell me about that.
A lot of hours were put into that. I had a list of people that I had to
call from time to time when I was working, and I called everybody I'd
ever worked with asking them to testify on my behalf, trying to get up
as much information in addition to what I already had. And I couldn't
know - I only ended up, I think I had five people who said they would
testify on my behalf. Five. Because all of them would say something to
the effect, "Well, I don't think I know anything that would help your
case." In other words, "I don't want to be involved."
And the five people that were willing to stand up and [Inaudible 20:18]
, were they current employees, or retired workers, or what?
There were two women who testified on my behalf. One was still working,
and I'd say she'd been done probably worse than I had, and she was
still working at the time and worked several years after that. And then
the other lady had finally given up and sold her service, 22 years in
fact with Goodyear. And she was an area manager and left, and she was a
supervisor at Honda in Alabama at the time. She took a day's vacation,
came to Anniston Federal Court and testified on my behalf.
And then the African-American male that was area manager, he took a day
off from work and put his suit and white shirt and tie on and came to
court, but we never used him. The two women testified, and our
attorneys though we had enough, and evidently we did.
then the union man, he a was retired maintenance man, and after we went
from being supervisors to area mangers, we also managed the maintenance
craftspeople on their shift. I had to go to engineering school, and I
finished second out of all - about 160 management people. And on my
shift, I managed the craftspeople, too, and this pipe fitter
maintenance fellow came to court to testify on my behalf.
And did you have any contact with the lawyers for the company during this process?
Only in depositions.
What were they like?
They were pretty tough. In fact, in some cases they would ramble on and
on and on, like eight and nine o'clock at night. And Mr. Goldfarb would
say, "That's enough." And we'd get up and leave. I mean, they'd be
repeating themselves, so we'd just get up and leave.
And tell me about the trial. What was the trial judge's name?
E. W. Clement. I couldn't have been more lucky to have...
No, you could not have been.
I know. But in fact, a lawyer told me recently that I was just lucky, that was all it was. But I had a good case, too.
U. W. was - back in the '60s when there were very few African-American
lawyers in the South at all, he was one of the few in Alabama. He is -
his partner, Oscar Adams, and Jim Baker. And Oscar - worked with him at
the [Inaudible 22:39] firm for many years, and Oscar went on the
Alabama Supreme court, and Baker, I think, became mayor, didn't he?
It might be, I don't know.
Or city attorney. And U.W. became a federal judge. That was an era
when, in the '80s - well, I guess you can kind of - in the late '70s,
one of the changes in civil rights litigation was that a lot of the
stars of the local bar from the '60s and '70s became judges, and we
really lost a lot of the strongest lawyers and sort of had to rebuild
that system. It was good in many ways, and U. W. was certainly one of
Well, he's one my favorite people now because - not only in my case,
but when he retired last January, they ask him in all of his interviews
about his 30 years on the bench what his most memorable case was, and
he said, "The Ledbetter vs. Goodyear." He said that's the biggest one
that stands out in his mind. He said, "I'll never forget it."
And what do you recall of U. W. from the hearings that you were at? I mean, other than the comment that you made, did...
I was impressed the first day. In fact, he told the Goodyear attorneys
that they needed to get a reasonable offer and go over on the other
side and make it, and let's go home. He said, "She's got a case. I've
read it." And he said...
...sort of balanced judge that plaintiffs ....
And he was very fair during the trial, because - just like he was the
one who asked about my record, where was my personnel file. He wanted
to see some evaluations where I was a poor performer, and some of that
background. And then he said, "Oh, you realized that she was being
underpaid." And so he was pretty sharp. He came up with a lot of
comments like that from the bench. Because - since there are law
students in the room...
Be careful what you say.
I know. I know. If you say it to a reporter, it will come back to haunt
you, too. But for the lawyers in the room, my lawyer is Jewish, Mr.
Goldfarb is. So I'm in this rural county in Alabama, and he's not sure
exactly how the people, the jurors that come from all over that area,
would take him presenting my case. So he brought over one of the
partners, reddish complexion, blond-headed fellow, middle-aged, and he
fed him all of the information and grilled him. And he wanted to start
out doing the questioning.
And certain people he would ask me, "Well, how are they? Are they
smart? Are they-" this or that." And so he put Mike up there to do the
questioning and the interviewing. But later on, he said, "You know, the
people down in Anniston, they accepted me pretty well." But he says my
case is the only one he's ever won in that county.
So that's why, with Michael, that he's never won one. He said he was quick. He was going to stop coming to Calhoun County.
Yeah. Well, so the trial, [Inaudible 25:58] what - how did the verdict come out, then, at trial? That went your way?
Well, they - I'll have to tell you this, too, Professor. They told me -
the lawyers did - "Do not make any facial emotion. Don't show any
emotion, don't make any comment, don't be beating on the table, and
don't holler or clap or anything."
"Just keep it low-key and stare at the wall." And so I come out, and I
had four cases. It was "No," "No, " "No" for the first three, and I
mean, my heart was just about to stop beating. And then the last one,
which was the pay discrimination, "We find in the plaintiff's favor,
$3.8 million." It was all I could do to sit there and not show emotion
and stare at that wall.
It was all I could do. I had to sit on my hands, because I mean - I
could have just - oof. You know, I was just so thrilled to hear that.
And judge U. W. Clement asked the foreman of the jury who had read the
verdict to please sit down, and he explained to everybody in the
courtroom how there is a cap. My $3 million suddenly became $300,000,
and that I was only entitled to two years' back pay, and that, they
took that lowest paid person and left me with $60,000 for two years.
So I left the courtroom that Friday afternoon with a $360,000 verdict
but the headlines in every paper across the country, CNN, NBC, all of
the news media the headlines were "Jacksonville Alabama Woman Awarded
$3.8 million." There was no $360,000 it was $3.8 million.
... all relatives you heard from after that.
I did. I did. In fact, I heard from my church singer directors. They wanted me to buy the church a bus.
Well, maybe a minivan.
I couldn't even afford that one either.
Yeah, I know. So and then went up on appeal, the court of appeals ruled
against you and then you decided to go on and try to get the Supreme
Court to take it. What was that process like? Usually when it's over in
a Court of Appeals, it's over.
But they decided to fight on to the Supreme Court.
You know, I don't think I knew that they had appealed to them until
they called and told me that that case was accepted. And Mr. Goldfarb
said we've just found out we're going to Supreme Court sometime this
And then he said you've got to know this because the news media will be
And they called?
They called. They called. All of them.
And who, mostly when cert was stranded or the time of the argument or both?
Oh, they called when it was accepted. That's big news in Alabama. This
was the first case that I believe Mr. Goldfarb's firm had ever had of
their own that went to the Supreme Court.
Do you have any particular reactions one way or are there particular
reporters that you talked to? Did you have any favorites or people you
thought asked good questions or bad questions?
Oh, yeah, I know them all now. And they've all been to my home. In
fact, after I went to the Supreme Court the "Washington Post" had a
reporter, that's his job being in the Supreme Court. He said, "After I
heard your case, that needs a face put with it." So he made a trip. He
flew into Birmingham, rented a car and drove to Jacksonville and spent
the day with me and interviewed and he ran that article in February of
And they sent a photographer, an Associated Press photographer, to make
And did any other reporters make any particular impression on you in
terms of how they understood what was going on or they all seemed
pretty much on top of the issues in the case?
Most of them were pretty much on top of it. Of course, the day the
verdict came out the attorneys, Mike told me. He called me because Mr.
Goldfarb was on vacation. He said, "Now Lilly you don't have to talk to
the media. Just refer them to us and we'll handle it."
Well, I thought about that. And I had give this my best. I did
everything that I possibly could. I had not cut it short anywhere and I
stayed with it for all those years. My attorneys did a good job. I had
nothing to be embarrassed or ashamed of. And I was going to face it
when NBC called first, I said, "Sure come on in." So they came into my
home and we did an interview. I did it with Pete Williams for the, or
Brian Williams, for the 6:00 news that evening. And then the next day
CNN called. Norman Lear called that night and he sent his TV crew in
and we made movies that ran on YouTube for quite some time.
kept waiting on a movie contract from Norman Lear because he made "All
in the Family" and "Jeffersons." [laughter] I just knew I was going to
get a movie career out of that, but I didn't. But I had to tell you...
That's the most stunning thing you said.
But I have to tell you...
I just can't believe that.
I have to tell you one thing that's really and I hadn't figured this
one out. There may be somebody here and you may can help me. When NBC
came, I mean we recorded a lot. When they come they do all of this
recording and they take your pictures down off the wall. They moved the
coffee table and your house doesn't look the same. So any time you see
somebody's house on TV, it might not look like that.
Well, we got through with the interview and the guy who was doing the
filming, he said, which is a freelance crew out of Birmingham. He said,
"We really need you to go in the kitchen and act like you're starting a
cake." He said, "Now you really don't have to make a cake. He said,
just act like it."
I looked at him and I said, I've just lost $3.8 million and you want me
to make a cake? I don't think so.
So we settled. We poured out a pot of coffee that my husband had just
made so I could make a pot of coffee. I made a pot of coffee for 'em
and that was on the TV. That night it was on national news, NBC. The
next day, CNN...
Didn't they sort of miss the point of the statute?
I think they did. [laughs] I could never figure the out, unless they
just wanted to put the woman back in the kitchen.
You know, well the next day, CNN and it's the same two freelance guys.
We really got to be good friends. They just kept coming. Well, they
came back. And so they said, "Well we can do the cake yesterday so you
can do the cake today. I'm sure you're up to it today."
I said, "Hope. No cake today at my house."
He said, "Well, you can't do the coffee thing. We did that yesterday for NBC." He said, "You got a teapot?"
I said, "Well, sure." So I put it kettle on and I boiled some water and I made a cup of tea. And I drunk it on the camera.
And then he said, "Well, you got to go get the mail."
And I said, "That's going to be a long walk. We're at the post office. We have a box."
He said, "Well," he looked out and he said, "Oh, you got a paper box.
You all got two of them." So he made my husband carry the papers back
out and they get me on camera going out to get the papers.
I told him that really add a lot to it. And then when Norman Lear
called, he sent the same two people.
Have you taught them how to cook yet?
Well you know I want to go back in time a little bit. Were you at the court when the [Inaudible 33:55] case was ordered?
Yes. My husband had just had cancer surgery and was unable to travel.
They took the left side of his face off, grafted his skin from his
right leg and I left him at home with home health care. They came every
day and checked on him and my daughter and I traveled to Washington and
was in the Supreme Court.
What was that like?
Well, they read Ledbetter vs. Goodyear and after that it was nothing
personal. It was always the case, the case and the law and there was
nothing ever about... You would have been not even know there was a
human being involved, to tell you the truth.
Which particular Supreme Court justice did you have in mind when you said that?
Five of them.
Guess which five?
Did you have any impressions about particular members of the Court from the questions that were asked?
Yes. Chief Justice Roberts made the statement toward the end that why
if they let this case go forward, they would be people coming back out
of the woodwork to file lawsuits. Well, they never had. And these
cases, as you well know, they're extremely hard to prove. And most
people don't do them because of that. It's hard to get them into court.
It's hard to get a jury trial.
And I'll tell you a quick little thing about my jury. The reason that
they said no, no, no and I lost the age discrimination case was the
fact that one of the jurors had somewhere to go that Friday night and
they lived a distance away and they wanted to get out of court and they
didn't want to come back on Monday.
they just said no, no, no, no, and put all the award in one pot, so to
speak. So you get those kind of things with jurors. But Justice Roberts
seemed to think that if that was way they should rule on the case was
so that they wouldn't be other cases coming out. And the government's
attorney said that Equal Employment Commission had supported my case
all the way through the levels, the circuit.
Until we get to Washington and then they write, they get on the other side and argue on Goodyear's behalf.
For most people if they lose in the Supreme Court it's the end of the
line, not for you. There was another branch of government available to
you and I think as extraordinary as this experience was in the courts
your experience with Congress was really quite exceptional. How many
times did you testify up there?
Four. I testified twice before the House and twice before the Senate,
and that's extremely hard on an individual, because when I got there
the first day to testify before the House, a Mr. Mollen was there, and
he was a lawyer who represented the United States Chamber of Commerces.
And he kept-you would have thought we were in court, in trial.
He kept bringing up how bad I was, what a poor performer, how I said I
had had this sexual advancement from this man in earlier years in
another case, and then he said, "But that man's dead. I wonder what
he'd say if he was here today."
just kept bringing it up, but every time he would bring up something, I
would get the chairman's attention to let me clarify what he had just
said, and when he'd shoot me down, I'd put it right back to him, and
the second time he came, when he left, he said, "I hope I never go up
against you again."
And the next two times, he never came back. They had to find somebody
new each time, and none of them liked going up against me, because I
knew my case. I knew I was right, and I knew the law. I'd spent too
many hours with Mr. Goldfarb not to know that. And I was not going to
let them tell these people something that was not true.
There was one of the female senators from California that put back to
the lawyer that was arguing against me, "Why did they keep her for 19
years if she was such a poor performer?" She said, "When I ran a
business and I had a poor performer, I got rid of them, and I didn't
wait 19 years to do it!"
So that made a point.
What was your sense about the hearings? Were they just going through
the motions? Did the members of the committees really seem engaged in
trying to figure out the issues?
They were engaged. In fact, I would have people, both Democrats, both
Republicans, that would give me their card after the hearings and tell
me if I needed any help, to call them. They understood, and they were
trying to get to the truth.
The first committee I testified before was Congressman George Miller,
who's House and Labor Committee. The next time I went back, I've
forgotten the man who chaired that one, and then when I went to the
Senate I testified before Ted Kennedy's committee, and that was an
eye-opener for everybody there, and the room was just packed with law
students. There was not even any standing room left.
Kennedy's staff had put together big charts like this, and it had on
them what Justice Roberts said in confirmation hearings, and on the
next chart it would have what he had actually done, and how he ruled.
The same thing for Justice Alito, and I mean, there were comments
there...People would say, they don't even look like the same two
people, compared to what they said they'd do, and how they had ruled.
Kennedy asked a lawyer that was there that time arguing against me and
my case. He called him by name, and he said "Why are you here today on
And he said, "I don't understand, Senator Kennedy, what do you mean?"
said, "Well, you used to work for the Equal Employment Commission, and
now you've taken the opposite side because they support her." And the
man never said another word. That was the last thing that man said, and
he never talked again. But the Chamber of Commerce is who sends those
Then this proceeded to become an issue in the presidential campaign.
What was it like watching that? Did the same freelance reporters come back to your house again?
What did you move on to? Sherry?
They've learned I'm not doing a cake! They have learned that.
But this has really been a life-changing event. I learned early on, or
I thought that this was just a deep Southern problem, and I found out
very quickly it's national, across this country, and then it's
I learned that it's not only in first-line managers. It's all over the
country, with college professors, women who hold Doctorates earning
half what the men are earning.
Medical doctors, I met a doctor in
New York...and I've got letters at my house from all over the country,
and then last March I got an invitation to go to Rome, Italy for six
days, all expenses paid. I just have to come and tell my story and
share it with them. They're union, and they're people, and they're
women who's facing struggles the same way.
Of course, I had lost
my husband by then, so I carried my Washington lawyer-- Mr. Goldfarb
couldn't go, so he didn't get paid either--Kevin Russell, who argued in
the Supreme Court, so I called Kevin and he went.
We stayed six
days, and I was so well-received. I was supposed to have two free days,
but I ended up working one of them, to go to a TV station. I made film
recordings that would be shown to 18 million people. The second day I
was in Rome, the front page of the paper was my picture. The total
front page was my picture, looking into a mirror, so it was like two of
I'm sure that's the way it felt to the Chamber of Commerce.
Probably to Goodyear too! I've wondered if they didn't end up at a few
of their board meetings saying, "Boy, we should have had her selling
I know we want to have some time for questions, but...What would you
have the law students here take away from the experience you've had, in
terms of what their responsibilities are, what they should aspire to,
in the careers that lie ahead for them?
I think to have the dedication to do what's right, and to follow the
law for the interest of the person. It would be a great occupation to
be a lawyer and to do that.
One thing that I learned about Mr. Goldfarb: I had always heard that
lawyers would just out-and you hear the media saying that today, in
fact, they said, the lawyers--this was going to be a...what'd they call
it...besides a field day...
Lawyers' Full Employment Act.
We keep trying to pass that...
They talked about that. Well, that's not true in all lawyers. There may
be some like that, I don't know. But I can tell you from a personal
standpoint, Jon Goldfarb is not that kind of lawyer. He did not get one
dime out of my case. His firm, they got a lot of money in my case, too.
He paid out of his own pocket my first plane ticket to go to Washington
to testify before the Congress. That's the kind of lawyer I had. He
paid for my plane ticket to go, and he was going to pay for me a room
that night, and I said, "No sir, I can handle that." And I paid for my
That's the kind of person he is, and he went to the White House, his
wife bought him a $1,000 plane ticket to get to Washington that day,
because it was just a spur-of-the-moment. And he was cleared to go to
the White House, and he told us, "My goal is to get you out of there,
"talking about me, "and to get you some money left to leave those three
And he negotiated my book deal, he didn't get a dime out of it.
I've not got any either, it's a lot of bull...
I'm really a good moneymaker, I'll tell you. I guess I get in the wrong
one, it's subtraction, but, he did negotiate me a good book deal, I
still have my movie contract, so if it ever gets that far...He's never
got a dime.
I can call him anytime I want to. When my husband passed away, I looked
up that night in the receiving line, and there he came, after a long
day of taking depositions.
I had always heard that lawyers didn't think that way and didn't feel
that way about their clients, but I think you do. You just really have
to do that. And he and I will be friends for a long time, because he
had two children added to his family in that time, because I started in
1999 with him, and then we went all the way to '07 before we got the
And then I continued to work on this and he was sitting behind me the first time I testified in Washington.
Sounds like a model to which we can all aspire.
We're going to do some questions now. I think the people would like you
to go to the mic to ask so we'll have a recording. We'll pass on the
mic I think. I'll repeat the question maybe a little bit. Go next. Go
Did you ever find out who left you the anonymous note?
No, and I'll tell you this. It could have been a union person, because
the workers were unionized. And when I hired in one of the training
parts after learning all the management styles and the Goodyear
corporate people and everything, we had to physically work the jobs to
learn what it would be like for our people who was working for us.
And they saw the men did, the mainly the men, that I would work and
they respected that and they called me Miss Lilly from day one. And it
could have been a union person, because a lot of times they looked out
for my back.
What are your thoughts when the law finally got passed?
It's the same law that was on the books prior to the ruling in my case
because the Supreme Court decided instead of interpreting the law they
would just make some law. And that's what Justice Ginsberg challenged
Congress to change it back. She said they didn't understand what it was
like in the real world and I agree.
People don't stand around the watercooler discussing pay for several
reasons but it's back just like it was, but I'm told in Alabama that
I'm probably the only Alabamian with a bill named for them. And I'm in
a good place to find this out. I'm told that there's possibly less than
30 nationally, named after an individual.
That's very possible.
There's very few bills that's ever named for a person. And I didn't
know that. and to me that is very... That's an honor. That puts me in
the history books. And it's a very humbling thing to accept. And I am
so grateful for that. I don't have any money, though. But OK.
That's OK. Next question.
I'm going to ask you, who has been the most inspirational person in
your life, because you had to have a lot of inspiration and a lot of
guts and strength to do what you did? First of and have this job and do
this every day and work under all these conditions, but then to resolve
to move forward with this action and to see it through.
You're right. I was my parents. I was an only child. And we lived in
rural Alabama. I grew up in rural Alabama. I was born in a two room
house. And I had to walk five, four or five miles, to even catch a bus
when I started to school, to get to school.
And my mother would walk with me because it was sort of a scary way.
There was no houses. I had to walk all this distance. But growing up my
mother meant that I would learn the work ethic and what it meant to do
a day's work to earn some money.
my grandfather farmed and in the spring I'd have to chop cotton and in
the fall I had to pick cotton. I hated it. Oh, I hated it. Burnt my
hands and it was hot and the bees was out there and I didn't like it,
but when I weighed up my cotton at the end of my day, I'd better have
what I should have or I was in trouble.
And when we didn't have
cotton to work in we would do gardening. I'd have to get up at 6:00 and
go to that garden and we'd pick vegetables all day and sit on the porch
and break beans and fix them. I learned an appreciation of doing a good
job and doing it the best I could and I was taught education would open
any door that I ever wanted to open.
So I give my parents credit for that. Now I didn't think at the time my mother was too smart, but today she's very smart.
First I just wanted to say thank you for having the courage to fight as
hard as you did because I know how important the work that you have
done is for so many of us here, for all of us here, men and women.
Nobody [Inaudible 50:14] discrimination and your story is absolutely
amazing, of all the work you did.
You also mentioned when you were talking and I completely agree with
you but I'm curious from your perspective the concept of saying how
hard it is to even get your case through the door, to have a case if
you go anywhere or anything like that, to prove your case.
there things that you would like to see changed in the law that you
said just went back to what it was before, that would make it easier
for somebody who is in your situation that so many women are in where
they are discriminated against because of pay or other reasons and any
ideas you think would be better to make changes?
There is one thing, now that you mention it. In your case for example,
if you were working and you go file a charge with EEOC it's recorded
and that follows you the rest of your life. In other words prospective
employers can find out if you've ever filed a charge. And what we women
get is a new title. We're the trouble maker or that bitch.
That's what they refer to us and I've been called that many times.
also on the other hand that doesn't bother me as long as I'm doing
what's right. But that's why so many of the younger women at Goodyear
that was in their 40s would quit and leave and go get another job. And
I don't blame them. I probably would have done that, too, because it
will follow you for the rest of your career once you do that.
it would be nice if there would be a way that that could be sealed, you
know, and never would follow you. Then more people would step out. They
asked the girl who testified on my behalf at trial, "Why did you never
She said, "I was a divorced mother with a blind,
handicapped son, working paycheck to paycheck and I couldn't afford to
miss one and I knew if I even asked about my pay I wouldn't work there
anymore." But the next thing that I've got on my agenda once we get
Paycheck Fairness passed and Tom Harkin's bill, I want to see those
caps come off the $300,000 that was put on in 1991 by Congress to seal.
Because a person like myself who's lost 19 years of earnings and you
can't go back further than two.
I think there is a possibility of
three if it's fraudulent or something like that. but two usually, even
with that is all that's accepted as what I'm told. And there's nothing
in the law that allows an individual to re-gain any of those lost
retirements of even the benefits. In fact, Congress tried to pass a
bill that could just give me credit for that $60,000 back on my Social
Security back to the time of when I started drawing Social Security but
that didn't fly either.
So it's hard to get... That's another
point that needs to be made here is it's extremely hard to get
something changed, a law changed in Congress, too. And I stayed in
Washington practically for a year and a half. The National Women's Law
Center would fly me up there and pay for my lodging and my day would
run something like: I would start out at 5:00 in the morning on taking
calls from radio people driving into work, taking calls and then I'd do
that for two hours.
Then I would get dressed and do an NPR radio
and then I would go up to the Congress building to start with and then
to the Senate and we would have appointments one right after the other.
Back to back and we would call on most of you usually get to see are
the assistants. Sometimes you get to see the Senator or the Congressman
but most of the time it's the assistant, until you get a bill with your
name on it and then you get in and see them all and see Harry Reid if
you want to.
That's been a big eye-opener for me this last time I was in Washington
working on Paycheck Fairness, I could get into see Harry Reid and do a
news report. It just opened a lot of doors. But that needs to be
changed for women and see when my husband died in '08 I became another
statistic in this country. I'm now a widow. My income dropped more than
50% the date of his death at my house, but my utilities and all the
household expenses went up.
And my income from Goodyear will never change. It's locked into a
certain amount. Social Security is not giving any raises in two years.
So my income is not going up. And that's what women in the country are
living with. I'm just the tip of the iceberg. Yes, ma'am?
I do want to thank you very much, to some extent it is astonishing and
I guess to some extent certainly not at all astonishing that we are
still discussing all of this in 2010. And I couldn't agree more with
you that obviously good will is not an aberration and this is
Since, as I think your story demonstrates very well, the law is both a
forceful tool, but also has its limits. What are ways do you think we
can all do or society as a whole can do to make it less of a problem.
And I do hope they make your movie because I think that would be one
great way of making the story go out, even more so.
Well, one thing that we need to do in this country is, and a gentleman
in the audience you get it, that's what I like. The men are getting it
now. And that'll have more support across the United States from men,
because even young men who are not married they'll say: I've got a
sister and in my family at my house, we have to take up and help her
pay her bills because she's divorced and she has a child and she works
two jobs, but she can't keep them up on what she makes. Two minimum
And you can't make it in this country and you know that. So the men
understand it and I had a lot of support in my home town which is a
small college town from retired professors who are in their 80s. They
would write and say they have granddaughters and they have
granddaughters-in-law and their wife used to work and not be paid and
now she's still living the effects of it.
the men understand it and it's like what the president said when he
signed the bill. It's a family affair. If the women and minorities are
paid what they've earned then the families have better housing, better
food, and are better educated. And it betters the community, the state
and therefore the country.
I don't understand it seems so simple
to me. But what we need to do is each time you see or hear like
Paycheck Fairness probably will come up sometime this month is call the
senators. It's already past the house. It needs to go through the
Senate. It needs to pass. And then President Obama will sign it because
he helped draft that or worked on it when he was still a senator.
Would you say what the Paycheck Fairness is?
No, I'm asking you.
Me. OK. Oh, it affords an individual the right to ask what they're
making and how they stand with their peers without being retaliated
against. It also allows them to stand around and discuss their pay with
a coworker without retaliation and if they should be retaliated then
they have a legal leg to fall back on. And you know you should be able
to do that.
And what happens and I look back on this in my life. How did I, I
considered myself fairly intelligent. Why did I get caught in this? But
I was busy having an American dream. I had a good job, I thought. I was
earning good wages. I have a son. I have a daughter. And they were
playing Little League and doing Scouts and going to church and being
educated and making those plans for the future.
got caught up in living a life every day and I didn't think about the
big picture. You really have to think about the big picture and the
family and consider it because whatever you have today will go with you
for the rest of your life. I tell young audiences today that their
retirement starts the first day they go to work.
Any other questions? Way in the back, yes?
Did you ever find out if Goodyear will changed their policy?.
Oh, no. No, no, they did not change their policy. Everybody I
understand who was in management either African American or female got
a $1,000 a month raise. In fact, when I was in Washington for the
Inauguration somebody from Akron, Ohio sent me word. They appreciated
the raise I got them.
What was the actual discrepancy or difference in pay of the three men
who were in that note and you did the same jobs? Did that come out in
I didn't hear...
How much more did the men making than you were in the note?
30 and 40%.
It was presented at trial. In fact, they took a few of the men, not
every one of them and had it up on a big four by eight white board in
black letters. I mean, it was so obvious and then they handed out
handout sheets to the jurors with that on it and it'll be part of the
book, too. I probably in the book will use some of the check stubs
showing the overtime, because I had a lot of overtime and it's just a
Well, for the law school and for all of us, I can't thank you enough
for taking the time to come be with us and share your story. I think we
all walk out of here proud to have talked with you, ashamed that we
haven't done a fraction of what you have and aspire to do more.
May I also share something else with our audience, too. One thing if
you ever get a person with a case. One thing you remember is what they
go through when they go through the office, too. Because when I started
my case I told my husband why file the charge we would be in it eight
years because I'd read enough about cases that I knew it took a long
And I said if I start we'll be in it that long because I'm not a
quitter. I'll have to see it through. And he agreed with me and he
supported me right up to the time of his death. But there would be
nights that I would be up because I worked night shift and I'm still a
night person. He would walk into the den and I'd be reading or doing
something. He's say, "Lilly, are you sure you know what you're doing?"
was referring to that case. Because if I lost there was a judgment and
Goodyear did bill me for $3,165 after the Supreme Court. The Birmingham
attorney sent it to the media and the Washington attorney sent it to
law school. So I've not heard from the bill, but what I'm saying is I
could have been billed for the full amount of their legal expense,
because they had a judgment of something. I didn't quite understand
that. I missed that in my law schooling. [laughs] On that one, but...
You didn't miss much.
But it's really hard on an individual to carry a case this far and it's
hard on your family. I mean, it's extremely hard. The only thing that
we owned basically was our home. So we discussed putting it all in his
name, so if Goodyear came after me they couldn't get that.
And if they got the retirement, you know, so be it. They didn't have
much. But it's really, really hard. And I'll tell you your neighbors,
your church people, your so-called friends they kind of get on the
other side, too. So you are in the boat with just a few people, just a
few. And so when you get some clients later on just remember that. I
was very fortunate to have the attorneys that I did.
really was because it was so hard to stay up. But I just wanted to
share that because so many groups don't understand how hard it is to go
through something like this.
I must admit, I didn't. Anyway, we're very fortunate to have you here
today and I think we'll long remember the many lessons you have shared
with us and try, each in our own way, to the extraordinary example that
you have set for us all.