Webconsuls Blog

Friday, January 30, 2009

We Should All Thank Lilly Ledbetter

Forty years ago this month I entered the real work force. A real job with Wells Fargo Bank. I was all of 19, recently married and had dropped out of the University of San Francisco. This real job had the same grade and pay of a teller, but the Human Resource Officer who interviewed me thought I might be better suited to a desk job with limited "face to face" contact with the public! I was paid $370 per month. (Let me save you some time, that computes to $2.13 per hour.) I was assigned to the Monthly Payment Loan Center as a Payoff Clerk and my desk was located on the 3rd floor of the Wells Fargo Bank World Headquarter's building at 44 Montgomery, San Francisco, Ca. The building was new, completed in 1966 and it was the tallest building in San Francisco between 1966 and 1968. While my blog today is somewhat personal regarding my resume, I want to dedicate it to Lilly Ledbetter. We should all thank Lilly Ledbetter for her relentless pursuit of justice which resulted in the eventual passing and signing of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009. It has been a long 40 years!

If you are not familiar with Lilly's case against Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, then I invite you to read about it. After the Equal Pay Act of 1963 was passed most Americans probably felt protected by the law, but for women in the work place there has been an undercurrent sometimes barely noticeable, nevertheless palpable. Let me explain how this phenomena works. When you are hired by a large company, a well established company (Wells Fargo was founded in 1852), there is a presumption of trust. After all this is a bank and we all know that the basis of banking is that of a fiduciary. So is a 19 year old woman suppose to see red flags when in the interview process she is asked what kind of birth control measures do you use? Should the 19 year woman question why as an employee of the company she has no maternity insurance coverage, but the wives of male employees do? Should the 19 year old woman question her manager (a man) when he reminds all employees that they will be subject to termination if they meet with union leaders?

By 1972 I did start to ask questions, but I didn't have the time or money to fight for the cause...so I resigned from Wells Fargo and returned to college full time. By 1974 I received my B.A. in Social Work and went back into the work force, only to find myself once again in the banking industry. In 1978 I was hired by Crocker National Bank and by early 1979 (at the age of 29) I was an Assistant Vice President of Consumer Loan Administration. I worked in the Crocker Bank Tower located at 611 S. Grand Avenue, Los Angeles, CA. By this time, no one questioned my birth control measures (except my immediate Vice-President when he promoted me to AVP and then said with a chuckle: "Now, don't get pregnant!"), women employees now had maternity coverage, and unions just never came up in conversations.

In late 1980, I gave birth to my first son, Aaron. I resigned from Crocker Bank in the Spring of 1981 and it was purchased by Wells Fargo in 1986. I did not return to the banking industry until October 1985. By then I was 36 years old and we had just relocated to Conway, New Hampshire, with our two young children. Dennis and I met with a Commercial Loan Officer of Indian Head Bank North to discuss purchasing a country inn. After reviewing our business plan and resume, the gentleman looked at me and said: "Can we set this loan application aside and talk about hiring you?" He had me! After all, we were new in this community and if one of the most prestigious banks in the state was willing to offer me a job as a loan officer, two blocks from our home with medical benefits for the whole family then why not accept it?

I worked for Indian Head Bank North, was promoted to Vice President, and continued there even after we purchased Cranmore Mountain Lodge in 1986. But in 1988 Indian Head Bank was purchased by Fleet Bank and by 1989 most of the senior officers had been offered a severance package. I resigned my position in November 1989. Fleet Bank was purchased by Bank of America in 2003.

What you need to understand is that I always suspected that I did not receive equal pay for equal work in the banking industry. And now you are probably wondering why didn't I pursue it. The answer is complex: First, most companies use what are referred to as pay grades. According to Wikipedia a "Pay grade is a unit in systems of monetary compensation for employment. It is commonly used in public service, both civil and military, but also for companies of the private sector. Pay grades facilitate the employment process by providing a fixed framework of salary ranges, as opposed to a free negotiation. Typically, pay grades encompass two dimensions: a "vertical" range where each level corresponds to the responsibility of, and requirements needed for a certain position; and a "horizontal" range within this scale to allow for monetary incentives rewarding the employee's quality of performance or length of service."; Secondly, in most large companies you are subject to termination if you discuss your compensation level with other employees. So there you have it in a nut shell, put the woman in a pay grade that is the same as the men performing the same job, but start her in the bottom of the pay range and then make it clear that if she discusses her compensation she will be fired; Third, if you really want to keep her in tow, then give her a title, like Vice-President. It is all about TRUST!

Tonight I had the opportunity to read about Lilly Ledbetter's suit. As I read through the history of the case, I finally came to the Supreme Court's ruling against Lilly. Again, according to Wikipedia: "Justice Alito delivered the opinion of the court. The Court held that according to Title VII, discriminatory intent must occur during the 180-day charging period. Ledbetter did not claim that Goodyear acted with discriminatory intent in the charging period by issuing the checks, nor by denying her a raise in 1998. She argued that the discriminatory behavior occurred long before but still affected her during the 180-day charging period. Prior case law, the Court held, established that the actual intentional discrimination must occur within the charging period. The Court also stated that according to those prior cases, Ledbetter’s claim that each check is an act of discrimination is inconsistent with the statute, because there was no evidence of discriminatory intent in the issuing of the checks." So basically, they ruled against Lilly because she did not file her complaint within the 180-day charging period.

As I read this decision I immediately thought of the standard operating procedure for most companies, you are subject to termination if you discuss your compensation level with other employees. That being the case how could one ever hope to meet the requirement to file a complaint within the 180-day charging period?

It took the only woman on the Supreme Court, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, to point out the idiocy of this ruling by presenting the dissenting argument. Quoting from Wikipedia: "Justice Ginsburg dissented from the opinion of the Court, joined by Justices Stevens, Souter, and Breyer. She argued against applying the 180-day limit to pay discrimination, because discrimination often occurs in small increments over large periods of time. Furthermore, the pay information of fellow workers is typically confidential and unavailable for comparison. Ginsburg argued that pay discrimination is inherently different from adverse actions, such as termination. Adverse actions are obvious, but small pay discrepancy is often difficult to recognize until more than 180 days of the pay change. Ginsburg argued that the broad remedial purpose of the statute was incompatible with the Court's "cramped" interpretation. Her dissent asserted that the employer had been, "Knowingly carrying past pay discrimination forward" during the 180-day charging period, and therefore could be held liable."

So here's to Lilly. She fought the fight and she won the battle (not necessarily the war). On January 29, 2009, President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 (With the revised statutory language, the majority opinion's interpretation referenced above is no longer valid, and the law now conforms to the interpretation advocated by Justice Ginsberg in her dissenting opinion). Lilly will never be financially compensated by Goodyear or any government agency. She led a fight for all of us and for that we should be thankful.

P.S. Today's image is a collage of some more of my business cards from over the years. What a hoot...great titles, with almost always unequal pay! And for the record, over the years I fought many battles with my employers over equal treatment. In 1989, I refused to sign my severance package under threat of non-payment. The reason? It contained a clause that I was not allowed to discuss the terms of the agreement with fellow employees. I wonder why? Could it be that the packages were not equal? I knew they were not, I didn't sign, but they paid me my severance. To think how the battles might have been waged differently with the Internet, YouTube, Facebook, Blogs, Twitter...dare to imagine!

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  1. Wow....really interesting post. Lots of good history to hear about.

  2. Judith, thank you for this! I want to let you, and your readers, know about a project called Make Lilly Right. Started by two women in Seattle, Make Lilly Right is a campaign to get one million women to each send a gift of $3 to Lilly to make up for her lost settlement against Goodyear and say THANK YOU for all she's done for us.

    Take a look at www.makelillyright.com, or on facebook http://www.facebook.com/?ref=logo#!/group.php?gid=375431450349&ref=ts

  3. I'm wondering that if you did not know what other people's severance packages contained---why would you assume that yours was not equal?

    And - even if the packages were not equal - why would you assume that they were unequal based on gender - and not years of service or some other reason?

    Isn't the automatic assumption that you are getting unequal treatment because you're a woman contributing to the problem? Unless you have the data I'm not sure why you assume it's unequal?

    Point: I'm not trying to say that it wasn't unequal but I think there's a big problem with assuming you are being discriminated without any specific reference data in your orgs context to support your case.

    Here's a great article on the women vs men debate:


  4. This version of the blog was prior to the Blogger migration. Please go here We Should All Thank Lilly Ledbetter to see all of the current comments.

  5. I thought it might be helpful to review how we came to meet on this post today. Early this morning Chris Brogan tweeted about a blog post When Female Networks Aren't Enough.

    To his tweet I replied "We need sponsors? Mentors? Read http://bit.ly/BVxLG What does it say about corporations, that we still ask these questions?" I was shocked that Chris Brogan RT me, saying: I think @JudyHelfand has something here. Why are we still asking this? - http://bit.ly/BVxLG"

    Many of you may know what can happen when Chris Brogan RTs you. In the last 10 hours 335 people have read this blog post or at least taken the time to click over to the post, a few people have commented, and about 20 RT Chris Brogan's RT! I would like to thank those who stopped by and I would like to respond briefly to the "Anonymous" commenter above.

    As a Vice President for Fleet Bank I was required to sever many employees during this buy-out; therefore, not only did I know what was in each of their packages I was required to review the package with these employees. Some were offered 'Stay Bonuses', "a financial arrangement offered to key people as an enticement to stay in their jobs until the phase-out of their departments was completed," per Bruce Johnstone (then President of Indian Head). I know for a fact that only some employees were asked to "sign" their severance package agreement. Others were not asked to "sign" their packages, but then again some of those were in-house counsel! For the record, mine is still in a folder unsigned.

    I did not assume that the packages were unequal based on gender, I never said that in my post or did I mean to imply the same. What I said was "I knew the packages were not equal." Of course there was a formula for years of service, etc, but I am talking about the smaller details, including but not limited to requiring some to sign and some not to sign the agreement to waive their rights to be party to future suits under ADEA. The most obvious discrimination factor was based on age. Most of us 40 and above, who were senior officers, were severed. See this article from the New York Time October 29, 1989. The Growing Legal Battle Over Employee Waivers.

    You asked: "Isn't the automatic assumption that you are getting unequal treatment because you're a woman contributing to the problem?" That is not my assumption nor did Lilly Ledbetter file her lawsuit on behalf of one gender, it was about equal pay for equal work for women and men. If unequal treatment still did not exist, I don't think that Sylvia Ann Hewlett would have written her post "When Female Networks Are Not Enough."

    I hope this gives all readers a broader view of my perspective. And I welcome more comments.


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