by Lilly Ledbetter; Crown, 2012; 279 pages; $25
Lilly Ledbetter has become a household name around these parts. The Jacksonville native made national headlines over the last few years with her well-publicized fight for equal pay for women. And while the news stories have documented her unsuccessful Supreme Court case against Goodyear Tire and the subsequent passage of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act, the 74-year-old’s personal hardships and trials during this time are revealed in her autobiography, “Grace and Grit.”
When she was hired at the Goodyear Tire factory in Gadsden in 1979, Ledbetter was one of the first women employed at management level. Throughout her time there, Ledbetter faced sexual harassment and discrimination on what seemed like a daily basis — including at one of her performance evaluations, where she was told by a male supervisor that she could get a better score if she met him at a hotel. And that, by far, wasn’t the worst of what she dealt with.
During this time, Ledbetter was also trying to raise her family — a daughter and son — and lead a fulfilling life with her husband. But long hours on the night shift left her feeling like she had abandoned her family.
After 19 years of working in a dirty, tiring and sometimes hostile environment, Ledbetter learned via an anonymous letter that she was earning thousands of dollars a year less than her male counterparts. That’s when she decided to file suit against the corporation, taking her fight all the way to the Supreme Court.
Even after justice was denied by the highest court in the nation, Ledbetter continued fighting, pushing for the passage of a law to ensure women could more easily file lawsuits against companies for fair pay. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act would be the first act Barack Obama, for whom Ledbetter campaigned for during the previous year’s election, signed into law as president. But this hard-won achievement was bittersweet, as Ledbetter’s husband died the month before, just shy of the couple’s 53rd anniversary.
Ledbetter doesn’t hide her pain or try and make herself larger than life in “Grace and Grit.” She has no air of aristocracy, and writes honestly and simply, like a true Southern storyteller.
This book is more than just a tears-and-triumph story of Ledbetter’s life (this reviewer did tear up at some parts); it’s a testimony that anyone can make a difference if they really fight for it.