Women Still Making Gains against Sex Discrimination

Article excerpt

Byline: Tonyaa Weathersbee

It's a safe bet that Lilly Ledbetter didn't set out to make headlines or history. Nor did Vonceil Harold or Traveine Howard.

All they sought was fairness.

But what these women learned was that when it came to being treated equitably in the workforce, they couldn't just ask.

They had to fight.

Anger pushed Ledbetter into that fight as she neared retirement. She learned that after 19 years of working as a supervisor at the Goodyear Tire and Rubber plant in Gadsden, Ala., the company had paid her thousands of dollars less per year than her male peers.

Exasperation summoned Harold and Howard into the fight when the women dockworkers couldn't get their male counterparts to admit them into the union, or to stop treating them with lewdness and disrespect.

Eventually, the women prevailed.

After the Supreme Court decided against upholding a jury's finding of pay discrimination against Goodyear because Ledbetter didn't sue within 180 days of the date when the company first paid her less than her co-workers, Congress and President Barack Obama stepped in.

His first legislative act was to sign the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which allows workers to sue for pay discrimination six months after each time they receive a paycheck that reflects the disparity.

And the efforts of Harold and Howard, who filed a lawsuit against the International Longshoreman's Association and its Jacksonville chapter, Deep Sea Local 1408, for sexual discrimination and harassment, have led to markedly better treatment of women dockworkers.

So now, as Women's History Month winds up, it's important to pay homage to women like them -- and to others who have cleared obstacles from the path of possibilities for women.

It's important to remember women like Shirley Chisholm, who in 1968 became the first black woman elected to Congress, and Sandra Day O'Connor, who in 1981 became the first female Supreme Court justice; and Amelia Earhart, who in 1932 became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic, and Sally Ride, who in 1983 became the first woman to go into space. …