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News: U. S. Supreme Court Rules 5-4 Against Employee’s Pay Discrimination Claim

U. S. Supreme Court Rules 5-4 Against Employee’s Pay Discrimination Claim
Lilly Ledbetter worked at Goodyear from 1979 until 1998. She submitted a questionnaire to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in March 1998 and made a formal EEOC charge in July 1998. She claimed that her employer paid her a smaller salary than it paid male co-workers. Her paychecks were based on annual salary reviews, which she claimed were made with discriminatory intent. Those past salary decisions affected the amount of her pay throughout her employment and, by the end of her employment, she was earning significantly less than her male colleagues.

The District Court allowed her pay discrimination claim to go to trial, and the jury awarded her back pay and damages. On appeal, Goodyear contended that the pay discrimination claim was time barred with regard to all pay decisions made before September 26, 1997—180 days before Ledbetter filed her EEOC questionnaire. The Eleventh Circuit agreed with Goodyear, and reversed the District Court.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires aggrieved employees to file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission within 180 days “after the alleged unlawful employment practice occurred.”

At issue before the U. S. Supreme Court was whether the 180-day statute of limitations starts over each time an employee claiming a wage disparity receives a paycheck. On May 29, 2007, the Court, in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., ruled 5-4 that it does not.  Click the link below to read this case.

The Court, in an opinion written by Justice Alito, held that the 180 days begins to run when “each allegedly discriminatory pay decision was made and communicated to her.” The 180 days does not start over with each later paycheck. “A new violation does not occur, and a new charging period does not commence, upon the occurrence of subsequent nondiscriminatory acts that entail adverse effects resulting from the past discrimination…[C]urrent effects alone cannot breathe life into prior, uncharged discrimination.” “Because the later effects of past discrimination do not restart the clock for filing an EEOC charge, Ledbetter’s claim is untimely.”

This is the correct result under the statute as currently drafted.

In her dissent, however, Justice Ginsburg points out that “…under today’s decision, if a black supervisor initially received the same salary as his white colleagues, but annually received smaller raises, there would be no right to sue under Title VII outside the 180-day window following each annual salary change, however strong the cumulative evidence of discrimination might be. The Court would thus force plaintiffs, in many cases, to sue too soon to prevail, while cutting them off as time barred once the pay differential is large enough to enable them to mount a winnable case.”

We will keep our readers apprised of any proposed legislation designed to address this perceived inequity.

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