Late last month, the Supreme Court ruled that wage-discrimination claims are like other discrimination claims under Title VII: they expire in 180 days (or sometimes 300 days — distinction not important here). Now Congress is trying to undo that ruling.
In Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. (PDF), Lilly Ledbetter sued for sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. She argued that the pay she received over the course of her years at Goodyear was discriminatorily low, and a federal jury agreed. Goodyear then appealed to the Eleventh Circuit, arguing that pay decisions that occurred more than 180 days before she filed at the EEOC were time barred. The Court of Appeals agreed (PDF), and reversed the jury verdict. Ledbetter then took her case to the Supreme Court, which affirmed the Circuit's decision. Justice Alito wrote the opinion, joined by Justices Scalia, Thomas, Kennedy, and Chief Justice Roberts.
According to the decision, Ledbetter argued that earlier discriminatory decisions (outside the 180-day filing limit) carried forward their effects into paychecks delivered during the filing period. In other words, each paycheck was a discrete discriminatory act, rather than the mere result of an earlier discriminatory act (the pay-rate decision). The Court nixed this argument. The Court also noted that Ledbetter made no claim that intentionally discriminatory conduct occurred during the filing period, nor did she claim that she hadn't learned of the pay decisions until the filing deadline had passed. Bottom line, as the Court put it:
[C]urrent effects cannot breathe life into prior, uncharged conduct ... such effects in themselves have "no present legal consequences."
In her dissent, Justice Ginsburg (joined by Justices Stevens, Souter, and Breyer) concluded her argument in Ledbetter's favor with the following:
Once again, the ball is in Congress’ court. As in 1991, the
Legislature may act to correct this Court’s parsimonious
reading of Title VII.
Now Rep. George Miller (D-CA) has picked up the ball and introduced the "Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2007" (PDF), designed to reverse the Court's decision (press release from the House Committee of Education and Labor here). We'll have to see whether Congress decides to punish employers for years-old employment decisions. Employers: call your legislators to put a stop to the Ledbetter Act, or plan on defending stale discrimination claims.
Shout out to Chris McKinney's excellent HR Lawyer's Blog for his post "Congress Responds to Ledbetter Decision," which called it to my attention. Good work, Chris!