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On Equal Pay Day, pay homage to 11 people who’ve been critical to the equal pay movement

Some are household names, some are not — but all have fought the good fight

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Rosa DeLauro
Allison Shelley/Getty Images

It’s Equal Pay Day, the day on the calendar when the average woman’s earnings for 2014 finally catch up with the wages the average man earned last year. According to the latest statistics, women still earn an average of 78 percent of what men earned nationally each year.

The Paycheck Fairness Act, designed to level the playing field, has been put to a vote in Congress several times, and was once approved by the House of Representatives, but has yet to pass the Senate. President Obama has pledged that if the act is passed by both Houses, he will sign it into law.

Despite the roadblock in Congress,there has been progress in closing the pay gap. In 2009, the very first piece of legislation President Obama signed was the Fair Pay Act, a federal law that stipulates that a new 180-day statute of limitations for filing an equal pay lawsuit takes effect each time a paycheck is issued. None of this could have been done without the tireless efforts of the following 11 people who have been on the front lines of the battle. On Equal Pay Day, we pay them what we can: our humble tribute.

1. Lilly Ledbetter

Lilly Ledbetter

Alex Wong/Getty Images

Ledbetter is the poster woman of the equal pay movement. It was Ledbetter’s 1998 equal pay lawsuit against Goodyear that thrust the issue back into the national spotlight. And it’s her name that’s on the Fair Pay Act, the amendment to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 signed in 2009 by President Obama.

2. Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Ruth Bader Ginsburg

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RBG pretty much inspired the Paycheck Fairness Act. In 2007, when the Supreme Court ruled against Lilly Ledbetter, RBG wrote the dissenting opinion, and, according to the Washington Post, made the rare move of reading her dissent from the bench. She also called on Congress to do something about salary disparity between the sexes.

3. Susan Sparrow

Susan Sparrow

Photo credit: Brian Lee

In 2003, when she was just a 17-year-old high school student, Sparrow led a group of students who successfully lobbied the Utah state legislature to pass a bill that ordered a study on the gender pay gap in the state. State lawmakers there lauded her for being a “professional” lobbyist.

4. U.S. Senator Tom Harkin

Former Senator Tom Harkin

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The senator from Iowa was a sponsor of the Fair Pay Act when it was first introduced in the 1990s until he retired from the Senate in 2014. During his five terms, he was always a staunch advocate for pay equity, writing Op-Eds and fighting for the cause.

5. U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro

Rosa DeLauro

Allison Shelley/Getty Images

DeLauro, a Democrat representing Connecticut in the House, is the original author of the Paycheck Fairness Act, which she first introduced in 1997. She’s been a tenacious proponent of fair pay ever since. Last month, she teamed up with Democratic Representative Andre Carson to reintroduce the Paycheck Fairness Act.

6. U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski

Sen. Barbara Mikulski

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The senator from Maryland, who announced lat last year that she’s retiring, introduced the current version of the Paycheck Fairness Act that’s before Congress. Last year, after the Senate failed to pass the measure, she memorably castigated he colleagues on the Senate floor, saying the bill’s repeated failure to pass makes her ‘volcanic.’

7. Evelyn Murphy

Evelyn Murphy

Screen Shot/C-SPAN

From 1987 to 1991, Murphy served as the lieutenant governor of Massachusetts. She’s authored a book on wage discrimination and has testified before Congress on several occasions about the issue. Today, she’s president of a national grassroots activist organization called The Wage Project, a group she founded that works to end workplace pay discrimination against women.

8. Winn Newman

Winn Newman

Courtesy of Elaine Newman

Newman, who died in 1994, was a prominent attorney who argued for the ACLU and, at the time of his death, was the general counsel for the Coalition of Labor Union Women. He was a dogged litigator who, according to his New York Times obituary, won several equal pay cases against prominent corporations. He also specialized in taking on employers who discriminated against pregnant workers. The National Committee on Pay Equity immortalized Newman by naming its annual award after him.

9. Marcia Greenberger

Marcia Greenburger

Screen Shot/C-SPAN

Greenberger is an attorney who’s been fighting for equal pay for more than 40 years. According to the New York Times, she landed the first full-time job as women’s rights lawyer in Washington, D.C., back in the 1970s. The very first case she worked on had historic implications. It challenged one company’s policy that excluded pregnancy from disability coverage, and “paved the way for the Pregnancy Discrimination Act,” the Times reported. She’s served as counsel in other landmark cases like the Fair Pay Act and the Civil Rights Act of 1991. Today, Greenberger is co-president of the National Women’s Law Center and she testifies before Congress on equal pay issues.

10. Michele Leber

Michele Leber

Courtesy pay-equity.org

Leber, a retired librarian, is now the chair of the National Committee on Pay Equity. In 1983, she filed a sex-based wage discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against her employer. The case was dismissed after three years, but it inspired Leber to join the National Committee on Pay Equity and she has been there since helping to shepherd it along as it became an influential interest group.

11. U.S. Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton

Eleanor Holmes Norton

MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images

The U.S. Representative from the District of Columbia has been working the equal pay issue for a half-century. In 2009, along with Tom Harkin, she reintroduced the Fair Pay Act and the Paycheck Fairness Act. In 1977, she was appointed by President Carter to be the first female chair of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and, subsequently, ended up writing the rules on what constitutes sexual harassment in the workplace.

 

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