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  • Staff photo by BOB HAMMERSTROM


    Deb Pignatelli, right, shows her political memorbilia to Lilly Ledbetter, send from right, during a gathering of Women for Obama at Pignatelli's home in Nashua Monday evening, April 30, 2012.


  • Staff photo by BOB HAMMERSTROM


    Lilly Ledbetter, center, shares a laugh with Deb Pignatelli during a gathering of Women for Obama at Pignatelli's home in Nashua Monday evening, April 30, 2012.


  • Staff photo by BOB HAMMERSTROM


    Lilly Ledbetter, namesake of the Ledbetter equal pay act under consideration in Washington, speaks during a gathering of Women for Obama at Deb Pignatelli's home in Nashua Monday evening, April 30, 2012.


  • Staff photo by BOB HAMMERSTROM


    Lilly Ledbetter, namesake of the Ledbetter equal pay act under consideration in Washington, speaks during a gathering of Women for Obama at Deb Pignatelli's home in Nashua Monday evening, April 30, 2012.


  • Staff photo by BOB HAMMERSTROM


    Lilly Ledbetter, left, namesake of the Ledbetter equal pay act under consideration in Washington, is greeted by Deb Pignatelli at a gathering of Women for Obama at Pignatelli's home in Nashua Monday evening, April 30, 2012.


Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Ledbetter speaks to local women Obama supporters

NASHUA – For years a successful, high-achieving career manager with several employers, Lilly Ledbetter arrived for her regular night shift at the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. one evening in 1998 and suddenly found herself staring in dismay at a sheet of paper on her desk.

After nearly 20 years managing the Goodyear plant’s radial tire division, Ledbetter, whose name was listed on the paper with three other managers, discovered her pay was 40 percent less than that of her fellow managers – all three of them men. It was the last straw in a Goodyear career already rife with sexually based threats, ultimatums and a promise by one supervisor that she’d get excellent job performance evaluations “if you go down to the Ramada Inn with me.”

Ledbetter, the stoic, confident Alabama resident whose subsequent lawsuit against the tire and rubber giant led to the 2009 federal pay equity law that bears her name, shared her story Monday night at the Nashua home of former Executive Councilor Debora Pignatelli as part of a daylong Women for Obama campaign trip to New Hampshire.

Pignatelli, who said she is running again for the District 5 Executive Council seat that she lost to Republican Dave Wheeler in the GOP’s successful 2010 election, told the roughly 80 people present that Ledbetter’s visit is in part a response to Mitt Romney spokesman Tory Mazzola’s recent comments that the Ledbetter act is “unnecessary” and “a giveaway to trial lawyers.”

“That is absolute hooey,” Pignatelli said, calling Goodyear “an international company that hired Lilly and gave her wonderful reviews, then told her if she wanted to continue getting great reviews, she’d need to agree to sexual favors.”

So far, the Romney campaign has not said whether he would have signed the bill had he been president.

“If he won’t commit, I’ve always accepted that as a ‘no,’” Ledbetter said.

During the roughly one-hour event, labeled a “Nashua Women for Obama house party,” Ledbetter related the roller-coaster ups and downs she encountered over the 11 years she fought for legislation that would level the playing field for women and others susceptible to pay discrimination. She succeeded when, just two weeks into his presidency, President Barack Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009.

“I never set out intending to have my name on a lawsuit,” Ledbetter, a tall, slim woman, said in a distinctive Southern drawl. “It was never my mission to go to the White House. But this is one battle I couldn’t let go. It was never right. I lived up to my part of the bargain, but the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. did not,” she said.

“I worked hard for Obama because I knew (getting him elected) was the way to get the law passed,” Ledbetter said. She also panned recent Republican sentiment against the act, saying it initially received bipartisan support. “It’s not for one party or the other. It’s not about Republican and Democrat. It’s about everyone having the right to equal pay for equal work,” she said to a round of applause.

The battle was long and not without plenty of heartache, Ledbetter told the group. Her husband, who she said supported her from day one, later battled cancer that left him unable to travel with her.

“He died in December 2008,” she said, lamenting the fact he missed by just weeks his wife’s legislation becoming law.

Dean Shalhoup can be reached at 594-6443 or dshalhoup@nashuatelegraph.com.