In a piece for the New York Times published today to mark Equal Pay Day, Lilly Ledbetter connects the dots between the #MeToo movement and the fight for equal pay.
Ledbetter was the plaintiff in the Supreme Court case Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., which centered on pay discrimination, and the namesake of President Barack Obama’s Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. But her time at Goodyear wasn’t just marked by her historic fight against wage discrimination. While she was employed by the company, she also faced—and fought back against—sexual harassment by her supervisor.
Almost two decades before I got the anonymous note about my unequal pay, I was sexually harassed at my job. I complained about the harassment to my human resources representative. I made it clear that I wanted to keep my job but be separated from my harasser. The representative said I should go home and stay there until an investigation was completed. He said that since my harasser had been at the plant for 30 years and had a good reputation, he would remain on the job during the investigation. “If he stays, I stay,” I insisted.
I stayed — and so did he. My harasser, as far as I know, never faced any consequences for how he treated me. But my life at the plant changed. Co-workers stopped talking to me. I had to work harder than ever to repair my reputation and not be seen as a troublemaker for speaking up about my right to do my job with safety and dignity.
These are memories that I don’t like to think about, much less speak about. But hearing the outpouring of #MeToo stories over the past several months, I have come to realize that my #MeToo story should be just as much a part of my fight to close the wage gap as my pay discrimination story.
Sexual harassment isn’t about sex, just like pay discrimination isn’t just about pay. Both are about power. They are clear evidence that too many workplaces value women less. That was true for me in the 1980s and 1990s when I worked at Goodyear, and it is still true today.