SUPREME COURT DEALS BLOW TO PAY DISCRIMINATION SUITS BY IMPOSING TIME LIMIT IN WHICH TO COMPLAIN

The Supreme Court has created a 180 day “statue� of limitations to acts of intentional discrimination.  The Court imposed limits on claims and and limited claims to the 180 days immediately preceding  the formal making of a complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. See Text of the Decision (pdf)  

 

“Held: Because the later effects of past discrimination do not restart the clock for filing an EEOC charge, Ledbetter’s claim is untimely.Pp. 4–24.
(a) An individual wishing to bring a Title VII lawsuit must first filean EEOC charge within, as relevant here, 180 days “after the alleged unlawful employment practice occurred.� 42 U. S. C. §2000e–2(a)(1).�
The high court’s majority rejected the position taken by other federal appeals courts and by the commission that the “paycheck accrual rule� should be followed, meaning that each pay period that fails to correct past discrimination should be regarded as a new incident of discrimination.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg read part of her dissent aloud (an unmistakable sign of anger), and the tone of her opinion showed how bitterly she differed with the majority.

ALITO, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which ROBERTS, C. J., and SCALIA, KENNEDY, and THOMAS, JJ., joined. GINSBURG, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which STEVENS, SOUTER, and BREYER, JJ., joined.
Justice Ginsburg concluded in her 20 page dissent:
“The Court’s approbation of these consequences is totally at odds with the robust protection against workplace discrimination Congress intended Title VII to secure. See, e.g., Teamsters v. United States, 431 U. S., at 348 (“The primary purpose of Title VII was to assure equality of employment opportunities and to eliminate . . . discriminatory practices and devices . . . .�(internal quotation marks omitted)); Albemarle Paper Co.
v. Moody, 422 U. S. 405, 418 (1975) (“It is . . . the purpose of Title VII to make persons whole for injuries suffered on account of unlawful employment discrimination.�).�
 

The complete article:
 

By DAVID STOUT  New York Times May 29, 2007
WASHINGTON, May 29 — The Supreme Court ruled today, in a case of considerable interest to companies and workers alike, that employers are protected from lawsuits over pay discrimination linked to gender or race when the claims are based on decisions made or acts committed by the employer years ago.

Skip to next paragraph Voting 5 to 4 after apparently heated deliberations, the justices found in favor of the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company and against Lilly M. Ledbetter, who worked for 19 years at the company’s plant in Gadsden, Ala., and was paid substantially less than men doing work at the same level.

The majority found against Ms. Ledbetter, saying she could not show that there had been intentional discrimination in the 180-day period before she complained to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in March 1998, shortly after she retired from the company following an unwanted transfer.

Goodyear’s argument that federal law protected the company from claims concerning discrimination that occurred before Sept. 26, 1997 — or 180 days before Ms. Ledbetter filed her complaint — was upheld.

Today’s ruling affirmed a decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, in Atlanta, which overturned a Federal District Court jury’s award to Ms. Ledbetter. The jury had awarded her more than $3 million in back pay and compensatory and punitive damages, but the judge lowered the amount to $360,000 because of limits imposed by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The high court’s majority rejected the position taken by other federal appeals courts and by the commission that the “paycheck accrual rule� should be followed, meaning that each pay period that fails to correct past discrimination should be regarded as a new incident of discrimination.

Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., writing for the majority, said that “current effects alone cannot breathe life into prior, uncharged discrimination.�

“Ledbetter should have filed an E.E.O.C. charge within 180 days after each allegedly discriminatory pay decision was made and communicated to her,� Justice Alito wrote. “She did not do so, and the paychecks that were issued to her during the 180 days prior to the filing of her E.E.O.C. charge do not provide a basis for overcoming that prior failure.�

Alluding to an earlier Supreme Court ruling, Justice Alito conceded that the 180-day deadline is “short by any measure.� But he went on, “This short deadline reflects Congress’s strong preference for the prompt resolution of employment discrimination allegations through voluntary conciliation and cooperation.� Joining Justice Alito were Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Anthony M. Kennedy.

The Bush administration had entered the case on Goodyear’s behalf. The case, Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, No. 05-1074, was argued on Nov. 27.

Neal D. Mollen, an employment-law attorney in Washington who filed a brief backing Goodyear on behalf of the United States Chamber of Commerce, told Bloomberg News that today’s ruling has “great importance for employers.�

Michael Harper, a Boston University law professor who is an expert on labor and employment law, called the decision “definitely wrong from the point of view of policy� but “fully defensible� in view of the prior cases cited by the majority.“Congress had an opportunity to get this issue correct when it amended the statute in 1991, and some legislative history suggests the drafters of the 1991 amendments thought that they did so,� Mr. Harper said. “But they drafted the relevant amendment in a way that obscured that intent, and allowed the majority to issue this decision. To me, the case presents another lesson in the cost of poor legislative drafting.�

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg read part of her dissent aloud (an unmistakable sign of anger), and the tone of her opinion showed how bitterly she differed with the majority. She asserted that the effects of pay discrimination can be relatively small at first, then become far more serious as subsequent raises are based on the original low pay, and that instances of pay inequities ought to be treated differently from other acts of discrimination. For one thing, she said, pay discrimination is often not uncovered until long after the fact.

The majority’s holding, she said, “is totally at odds with the robust protection against workplace discrimination Congress intended Title VII to secure.� She said the majority “does not comprehend, or is indifferent to, the insidious way in which women can be victims of pay discrimination.�

“This is not the first time the Court has ordered a cramped interpretation of Title VII, incompatible with the statute’s broad remedial purpose,� she wrote. Her dissent was joined by Justices John Paul Stevens, David H. Souter and Stephen G. Breyer.

“Once again, the ball is in Congress’s court,� Justice Ginsburg wrote, expressing the hope that the lawmakers “may act to correct this parsimonious reading of Title VII.�

 

Comments

  1. Another obvious effort by a conservative court to curtail such lawsuits.