Alabama women’s pay activist reflects on death of Justice Ginsburg

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - People across the country mourned the loss of the U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg including an Alabama woman who said Justice Ginsburg changed her life.

Ginsburg died Friday due to complications from pancreatic cancer at the age of 87. She served on the U.S. Supreme Court for 30 years and was known for fighting for women and minority rights.

After news broke of Ginsburg’s death, Lilly Ledbetter, a women’s rights pioneer, and activist reflected on the impact Justice Ginsburg had on her life.

“I ended up going to Washington - testifying twice in the House, twice in the Senate. Justice Ginsburg understood... she understood that women struggle, and we do not get our rightful pay,” said Ledbetter.

Ledbetter of Jacksonville, AL made national headlines by suing Gadsden’s Goodyear plant for pay discrimination in the late ’90s. She later won a judgment of $3.8 million in the lower federal court.

However,  in 2006 the case went to the U.S. Supreme Court on appeal. There Ledbetter lost in a 5-4 vote.

“In May of ’07, I couldn’t believe it. it just broke my heart,” she recalled.

But the disappointment didn’t last for long. Justice Ginsburg, the only woman on the bench at the time, well-known for delivering progressive votes on divisive social issues and fiery dissents, spoke out against her male counterparts, fostering a life-long connection with Ledbetter that changed history.

“She said, ‘They do not know. They don’t understand what’s happening in the real world or they’re just indifferent to it,’ Ledbetter paraphrased. And she said, ‘this ball is in Congress’ court.”

That case led to the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009,  a law making it easier for those discriminated against to sue an employer.

The pair finally met the following year. Ledbetter recalls how Ginsburg showed her around her chambers.

“She said, ‘here’s a copy of the Ledbetter Bill’, which President Obama had beautifully framed in her office. She was proud of that and so was I,” she said.

Ledbetter says when she looks back over her life, she actually won by losing.

Ginsburg continued to send Ledbetter gifts and mementos throughout the years,  items she said she would always cherish.

Ledbetter ended her conversations with WBRC by saying how awesome Ginsburg was and that the work for women’s equality would continue.

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