Lilly Ledbetter, the woman who famously sued her employer after discovering she was being paid less than her male colleagues and who inspired the first piece of legislation President Barack Obama signed upon entering office, fired back against likely GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney after he declined to say whether he would have signed the bill into law.
"It took me more than 20 years to get an answer for the injustices that I suffered as an unfairly paid worker, so I know what it's like to wait for justice. I know what it's like to fight for justice. But Mitt Romney told me and millions of other women that he couldn't commit to fighting with us or for us," Ledbetter told reporters Wednesday.
On National Equal Pay Day Tuesday, one day after Romney dodged a question about the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the executive director of the New Hampshire Republican Party called the law a "handout to trial lawyers" that allows women to "sue their employers unnecessarily."
"Romney and the New Hampshire Republican Party should also consider this isn't just about women," Ledbetter responded. "It's all about families and their economic security. I know Obama believes in those values."
In 1998, Ledbetter sued her employer, Goodyear Tire and Rubber, for paying her significantly less over the course of her career than her less experienced male colleagues who were doing similar work. The Supreme Court ultimately sided against Ledbetter because she had waited 6 years to file suit, far exceeding the 180-day statute of limitations.
The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act extends that window, giving women more time in which to sue their employers for wage discrimination.
Romney recently said that he would not repeal the Fair Pay Act as president. But when ABC's Diane Sawyer asked him on Monday if he would have signed the bill in the first place, he responded, "I'm not going to go back and look at all the prior laws and say had I been there which ones would I have supported and signed. But I certainly support equal pay for women and -- and have no intention of changing that law, don't think there's a reason to."
On Tuesday, New Hampshire GOP executive director Tory Mazzola went further in an interview with WBIN-TV, arguing that the legislation paves the way for frivolous lawsuits.
“Instead of this being about fair pay, it’s really about a handout to trial lawyers, because it expands the areas that people can sue their employers unnecessarily,” Mazzola said. “If Democrats really want to help women, they should focus on the fact that women saw the slowest economic growth and jobs during the last year. They’re one of the demographics that are really struggling to find work, and if they focused on jobs and the economy instead of political payback, we’d be in a much better position.”
Ledbetter said she strongly disagrees with the idea that equal pay lawsuits are unnecessary, especially considering the fact that women are still earning 77 cents for every dollar men earn.
"I am but one woman with one story, but there are thousands of women with the same story, all of whom believe equal pay for equal work is necessary," she said. "This isn't about a handout to trial lawyers. This is about a piece of legislation and an ideal that can make a difference for my daughter, my granddaughter, and women across this nation."