1st Annual Equal Pay Summit brings key leaders to MSU

Montana’s 24th Governor Steve Bullock and his wife, First Lady Lisa Bullock, were on hand Wednesday to see the first ever Equal Pay Summit at MSU and in the state of Montana. The summit, which had over 400 attendees, included a day of panel discussions led and moderated by female professionals from around the state of Montana.

The summit officially kicked off with a lecture on Tuesday night by Lilly Ledbetter. Ledbetter, a former overnight supervisor at a Goodyear Tires plant in Alabama, gave lecture attendees insight into her own struggle as a woman in the workplace.

MSU President Waded Cruzado, a member of the governor’s Equal Pay for Equal Work Task Force, made opening remarks at Tuesday night’s lecture. She noted that “the average woman in the U.S. averages 78 cents to every dollar made by a man in the U.S.”

This set the tone for Ledbetter’s speech. In 1998, Ledbetter received an anonymous note that stated that she was making 40 percent less than three other men that worked at Goodyear in the same position as her. Ledbetter quickly hired an attorney and fought Goodyear all the way up into the Federal Court System, where in 2003 she was awarded a $3.8 million dollar settlement.

Since Ledbetter received her settlement, Goodyear appealed her case and eventually in 2007, the US Supreme Court removed Ledbetter’s case. Ledbetter noted at Tuesday night’s lecture that she “is not a quitter. That was not who I was or who I am today.” Hence, Ledbetter appealed the Supreme Court decision.

Ledbetter was never given back the money from the settlement or awarded any money lost from her decreased paychecks at Goodyear. Yet in 2009, President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act into law which states that the 180-day statute of limitations for filing an equal-pay lawsuit regarding pay discrimination resets with each new paycheck affected by that discriminatory action. This means that if an employee files a lawsuit regarding pay discrimination, for the duration of the lawsuit, the employee is still entitled to receive his or her paychecks.

In addition to Ledbetter’s Lecture, the summit on Wednesday included three different tracks: Shattering the Glass Ceiling: A Women’s Place is in Leadership, Beyond the “Pink Collar”: Expanding Opportunities for Women, and Closing the Wage Gap: From Parity to Prosperity. Each track held three different panels of business professionals, ranging from Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau to the CEO of American Rural Diane Smith.

Bullock also spoke at the summit on Wednesday afternoon: “Here in Montana, we believe that everyone should get a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work, regardless of their gender.” This theme appears to ring true for many of the men and women in attendance as one anonymous attendee noted “that it will for years to come.”