Lilly Ledbetter

Photo: Cindy Kilgore

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The Awesome Power of Everywoman: Lilly Ledbetter
Retiree, hero

For 19 years, while Lilly Ledbetter was a manager at a Goodyear tire plant in Alabama, her male peers' salaries far outpaced her own; by the late 1990s, the highest-paid male manager was making some $18,000 more for comparable work. Though Ledbetter didn't prevail when her discrimination suit reached the Supreme Court, her case led to the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which President Obama signed into law in January. On behalf of women everywhere, we salute her...

Work hard and play by the rules: That cornerstone of the American dream crumbled a bit in 2007 when the Supreme Court ruled against Lilly Ledbetter. The five-four decision boiled down to timing: Five male justices invoked the statute of limitations for pay-discrimination claims, and decided the inequity Ledbetter suffered had expired.

But Ledbetter kept right on fighting. And the new law that bears her name effectively nullified the Supreme Court decision. Today the 71-year-old retiree is championing what she calls "the next logical step": the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would strengthen penalties for equal-pay violations.

Lilly Ledbetter never received the hundreds of thousands of dollars due her in back pay and benefits. But her name is now shorthand for a new, improved American motto: Work hard, play by the rules—and, if necessary, change them.