Nine years after President Barack Obama signed a bill into law with her name on it, equal pay activist Lilly Ledbetter still remembers the role Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg played in her landmark case in 2006, saying the justice’s dissent from the majority gives her chills to this day.
Speaking with CNN’s Poppy Harlow and Jeffrey Toobin on the second episode of the new CNN podcast “RBG: Beyond Notorious,” Ledbetter suggested Ginsburg’s dissent from the majority was a sea change moment that helped lead to the eventual passage of her namesake law.
“I get chills and goosebumps today just thinking about it… knowing how fierce she was,” Ledbetter said.
Ledbetter sued her employer, Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company, in 1999 for gender discrimination after discovering that over the course of her 19-year career at the company, she had received lower compensation than her male counterparts. She won the case in federal court in 2003 and was awarded $3.8 million in back pay and damages.
The tire giant appealed and the case eventually made its way to the Supreme Court. In 2007, the high court upheld the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit’s reversal of the lower court’s decision. The Supreme Court ruled that because Ledbetter’s claim was made after a 180-day charging period, she could not sue her employer under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes it illegal for employers to discriminate on the basis of sex, race, color, religion, or national origin.
Ledbetter told Harlow and Toobin that she expected to lose the Supreme Court case, in part because of the court’s gender makeup at the time. In 2006, when the case was heard, Ginsburg – the subject of the CNN film “RBG: Beyond Notorious,” in which Ledbetter appears – was the only sitting female justice.
Railing against the all male, 5-4, majority, Ginsburg delivered a scathing dissent from the bench, a rare act by justices intended to demonstrate the strength of their disagreement. She accused the eight male justices of being indifferent to the gender pay gap.
“The Court does not comprehend or is indifferent to the insidious way in which women can be victims of pay discrimination,” she said, calling upon Congress to act where the court had not.
Following the Supreme Court decision, Ledbetter traveled to Washington and testified in front of the House and the Senate on multiple occasions.
She spoke at the 2008 Democratic National Convention. In January 2009, President Barack Obama’s signed his first piece of legislation into law: the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. The act loosened the statute of limitations under which workers can sue employers for pay discrimination based on characteristics such as gender, race, age or disability.
Today, Ledbetter continues to travel the world, speaking about the “wage gap” and speaking with lawmakers on both sides of the issue, arguing equality in pay is a bipartisan issue.
“It doesn’t belong to either party,” she said. “This is a national epidemic and it needs to be corrected.”
Earlier this year, Ledbetter wrote to First Daughter and White House Senior Adviser Ivanka Trump hoping to arrange a meeting to discuss the gender pay gap, an issue on which the First Daughter has vowed to focus in the past. Trump responded saying she would be happy to meet up with Ledbetter for coffee in Washington, DC.
According to Ledbetter, who walked away from her case with nothing, that meeting has not yet happened because it is not financially viable for her to travel to Washington for a cup of coffee.
CNN’s Vanessa Yurkevich contributed to this report.