Lessons from Ledbetter: Continuing the Fight for Pay Equity

Shortly after the President took office, he welcomed Lilly Ledbetter to the White House and signed a new law bearing her name.  This historic legislation sent a clear message that wage discrimination is not only bad for business, it’s illegal. This week, I had the opportunity to welcome Lilly to the Department of Labor – to hear her inspiring story and talk with her about our continued efforts for equal pay in the workplace.

While I was familiar with Lilly’s remarkable story, I’m still struck by how her nearly decade long fight for justice began. During an ordinary day on the job, Lilly went to her mailbox and discovered a slip of paper – an anonymous note – with her name and that of two male colleagues. Beside each name were their salaries, startling numbers that awoke a sense of injustice and set into motion her struggle on behalf of women across the nation. Like many women in today’s workplace, she was faced with a difficult choice. She could remain silent or she could speak up for herself, and in so doing speak out for countless other women across the nation who may have unknowingly faced a similar situation. I am grateful she had the courage to pursue the latter.

Lilly’s story is one to which too many working women can relate. Despite evidence that the wage gap has narrowed, a census report released this month, revealed that women are still paid only 77 cents for every dollar earned by a man. The gap for women of color is even larger. And the statistic holds true even when women possess similar levels of experience and education.

As our nation’s economy continues to recover, working families can’t afford to lose out on income they deserve. Those 23 cents add up and today, when working women are the sole or co-breadwinner in two-thirds of American families, getting short-changed can mean the difference between food on the table and going without. That is why Lilly, our President, and I support the passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act in the Senate. If passed, employees will be empowered to inquire about salary information without fear of retaliation. More importantly, it will eliminate many loopholes companies use to avoid equal wages, encourage greater transparency, and provide much needed wage-related data to better support the Labor Department with outreach and education. 

I am inspired by the work of Ms. Ledbetter and the progress made by pay equity advocates that came before her. But, I won’t be satisfied until every woman receives equal pay for equal work.

To learn more about the Labor Department, please visit our website at www.dol.gov.

Hilda L. Solis is the Untied State's Secretary of Labor

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