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To Lure Women's Votes, Obama Turns to Lilly Ledbetter

Lilly Ledbetter likes the praise—but wants more action on equal pay
The president often praises Ledbetter, who attended an April 27 fundraiser
The president often praises Ledbetter, who attended an April 27 fundraiserPhotograph by Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP Photo

At campaign stops, President Obama rarely neglects to remind women in the audience that the first bill he signed into law was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009. In 1998, Ledbetter sued her employer, Goodyear Tire & Rubber, when she discovered her male co-workers were paid more than she was. The case dragged on for nearly a decade, until the Supreme Court struck it down in 2007 because she’d waited too long to bring her complaint. She pressed Congress to change the law, and the statute that bears her name reversed the high court’s decision, giving employees more time to challenge companies that cheat them out of pay.

Now 74, Ledbetter has become a hallowed figure in the Obama campaign as the president tries to show his commitment to women’s equality—and draw a sharp distinction between himself and his opponent. Mitt Romney won’t say whether he’d have signed the Ledbetter Act, only that he wouldn’t try to repeal it as president. Ledbetter had a front row seat at an April 27 Obama fundraiser in Washington hosted by the Women’s Leadership Forum. Joe Biden has invited her to his house. Michelle Obama has called her “one of my favorite people in the whole wide world.” In his May 14 commencement address at Barnard College, Obama praised Ledbetter for “the courage to step up and say, you know what, this isn’t right, women weren’t being treated fairly—we lacked some of the tools we needed to uphold the basic principle of equal pay for equal work.”