Good evening. Many of you are probably asking: Who is that grandmother from Alabama at the podium? I can assure you, nobody is more surprised, or humbled, than I am. I’m here to talk about America’s commitment to fairness and equality, and how people like me — and like you — suffer when that commitment is betrayed.
How fitting that I speak to you on Women’s Equality Day, when we celebrate ratification of the amendment that gave women the right to vote. Even as we celebrate, let’s also remind ourselves: the fight for equality is not over. I know that from personal experience. I was a trailblazer when I went to work as a female supervisor at a Goodyear tire plant in Gadsden, Alabama.
My job demanded a lot, and I gave it 100 percent. I kept up with every one of my male co-workers. But toward the end of my 19 years at Goodyear, I began to suspect that I wasn’t getting paid as much as men doing the same job. An anonymous note in my mailbox confirmed that I was right. Despite praising me for my work, Goodyear gave me smaller raises than my male co-managers, over and over.
Those differences affected my family’s quality of life then, and they affect my retirement now. When I discovered the injustice, I thought about moving on. But in the end, I couldn’t ignore the discrimination. So I went to court. A jury agreed with me. They found that my employer had violated the law and awarded me what I was owed.
I hoped the verdict would make my company feel the sting, learn a lesson and never again treat women unfairly. But they appealed, all the way to the Supreme Court, and in a 5-to-4 decision our highest court sided with big business. They said I should have filed my complaint within six months of Goodyear’s first decision to pay me less, even though I didn’t know that’s what they were doing.
In dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote that the ruling made no sense in the real world. She was right. The House of Representatives passed a bill that would make sure what was done to me couldn’t happen again. But when it got to the Senate, enough Republicans opposed it to prevent a vote.
We can’t afford more of the same votes that deny women their equal rights. Barack Obama is on our side. He is fighting to fix this terrible ruling, and as president, he has promised to appoint justices who will enforce laws that protect everyday people like me. But this isn’t a Democratic or a Republican issue. It’s a fairness issue. And fortunately, there are some Republicans — and a lot of Democrats — who are on our side.
My case is over. I will never receive the pay I deserve. But there will be a far richer reward if we secure fair pay. For our children and grandchildren, so that no one will ever again experience the discrimination that I did. Equal pay for equal work is a fundamental American principle. We need leaders in this country who will fight for it. With all of us working together, we can have the change we need and the opportunity we all deserve.