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Equal Pay Icon, Labor Leaders Warn of Election Consequences

The namesake behind the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act (seen here with President Obama in 2009) has a warning for Florida women. (whitehouse.gov)
The namesake behind the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act (seen here with President Obama in 2009) has a warning for Florida women. (whitehouse.gov)
August 23, 2016

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Do your homework before the election or pay the price, potentially with your job. That's the message one of the key figures in the fight for workplace quality has for Florida women.

After discovering she earned less than her male colleagues at the Goodyear tire plant, Lilly Ledbetter took her fight for equal pay all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Now, with the election looming and an open seat on the high court, she's urging Florida women to think long and hard about which presidential candidate is most likely to advance the cause.

"We are still so far, far behind," she said. "Women still do not get the benefits and the rights that they are entitled to. It is one of the most unbelievable situations in this country."

While Ledbetter lost her case in a 2007 split decision, Congress eventually did pass the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which was the first act signed into law by President Obama in 2009. Hillary Clinton was a sponsor of that legislation, while Republican vice presidential nominee Mike Pence voted against it.

Ivanka Trump said during the Republican Convention that her father would likely look at the pay-bias issue. Donald Trump however, has said he'd expect his daughter to leave her job if she were being discriminated against.

Theresa King is the president of the Florida Building Trades, and said that simply isn't an option for most working women.

"To suggest that if I was sexually harassed on a job site, that I am the one who should change careers is an absolute insult to not only me but to every woman that works daily to have their own American dream," she said.

King said she and other members of the Florida AFL-CIO will spend the next few months going door-to-door and trying to educate Florida voters about the importance of women's issues in this election.

Ledbetter said her landmark case may have turned out very differently if a different set of judges sat on the bench. Two of the Supreme Court justices who sided with Ledbetter have since retired, and one who voted against her has died. With one high court vacancy in play, she said it's a reminder that the decisions the next president makes will outlive him or her.

"It could determine our lives for generations to come," she added. "And this year is no less. It is the most critical year of my life."

President Obama and congressional Democrats have tried to pass separate legislation to make it easier for workers to sue for wage discrimination, but that has been blocked by Republicans who argue it would be a boon for trial lawyers that won't help close the pay gap.

Mona Shand, Public News Service - FL