OSWEGO – Lilly Ledbetter, an activist for equal pay for women since standing up for her rights at an Alabama tire company, will headline SUNY Oswego’s Ernst & Young Lecture Series at SUNY Oswego with a free presentation at 6 p.m. Feb. 28 in the Sheldon Hall ballroom.
Ledbetter’s talk, “Equal Pay, Equal Work,” will be the second of five lectures this school year in Oswego’s Ernst & Young Lecture Series on Gender Equity.
President Barack Obama, who championed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in 2009, told Congress in his 2013 State of the Union address that he wants to take her cause further, calling for passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act.
In 1998, Ledbetter sued her former employer, Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. in Gadsden, Ala., for paying her significantly less than males in equivalent positions. The U.S. Supreme Court in 2007 denied her claim, saying that under then-current law, she had only 180 days to make a case after her first paycheck — though the pay discrimination went undisclosed for nearly 20 years.
The 2009 law allows victims of unequal pay to challenge the discrimination within 180 days of any paycheck.
‘Fight for equity’
Mary McCune of SUNY Oswego’s history department and director of women’s studies, hopes Ledbetter discusses her transformation from a working-class woman to campaigning for legislation and for the president.
“I think she has a really compelling story and she really can bring to light a lot of issues that are in politics,” McCune said.
Ledbetter, now 70, campaigned for Obama in 2008 and 2012, a long time after she began as an overnight shift supervisor at Goodyear in 1979.
“Students have a lot to learn from Ledbetter’s experiences,” said Susan Coultrap-McQuin, professor of English and women’s studies. “(She) will inspire students to think about how they too might contribute to improving conditions for women and men in the workplace.”
In 2010, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, full-time female workers made 77 cents for every dollar earned by men. In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo supports passage of the Women’s Equality Act, which will cover several issues including pay equity, domestic violence and sexual harassment in the workplace.
Ledbetter “has definitely come to represent a continuing fight for equity in the work place,” Coultrap-McQuin said. “I hope they (students) learn that there is still work to do for women’s rights and gender equity, and that people just like them have been involved in this fight.”
McCune wants students to realize that activism doesn’t have to always be on a large scale.
“There are different paths of activism and different ways to go about it,” McCune said.
Oswego alumnus Robert Feinberg (’78) endowed the Ernst & Young series 10 years ago, with a matching gift from his employer, global accounting and business advisory firm Ernst & Young.