High Court Rejects Years-Old Discrimination Claims

May 28, 2007 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - Employees can't sue over workplace discrimination in their compensation if the discriminatory acts were more than 180 days before the repot of the alleged discriminatory behavior, a divided U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday.

The 5 to 4 majority turned aside arguments advanced by Lilly Ledbetter, an Alabama Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. worker, who said that almost two decades of discrimination meant her salary was 15% to 40% lower than what her male counterparts earned, according to a Bloomberg news article. The majority also rejected a $360,000 award to Ledbetter.

Justices accepted the Ledbetter case to consider whether workers can claim that their most recent paychecks are affected by discrimination that took place outside the normal 180-day legal filing window set by federal law.

Current effects alone cannot breathe life into prior, uncharged discrimination,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the majority. “Ledbetter should have filed an EEOC charge within 180 days after each allegedly discriminatory pay decision was made and communicated to her.” Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy and Clarence Thomas joined Alito’s opinion.  

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the court’s only woman, took the unusual step of reading a summary of her dissent from the bench as she sat next to Alito. She said the majority “does not comprehend, or is indifferent to, the insidious way in which women can be victims of pay discrimination.”

Today’s decision counsels: “Sue early on, when it is uncertain whether discrimination accounts for the pay disparity you are experiencing,” Ginsburg said.


align=”left”> Ledbetter worked at Goodyear’s Gadsden, Alabama, plant from 1979 to 1998, when she took early retirement. She filed her complaint with the EEOC in March 1998.


align=”left”> Goodyear, while acknowledging that Ledbetter was paid less than men holding similar jobs, attributed the disparity to her poor performance over the years. The company put in place a merit-based compensation program in 1982. A federal jury in Alabama awarded Ledbetter more than $200,000 in back pay, plus $3.3 million in punitive damages. A trial judge cut the award to $360,000.


align=”left”> The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals then threw out the award, saying jurors should have looked only at Goodrich’s most recent pay-raise decisions, sending the issue to the high court’s docket (See “ US Supreme Court Hears Historical Pay Complaint Case “).


align=”left”> The case is Ledbetter v. Goodyear, 05-1074. The U.S Supreme Court ruling is here .