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May 30, 2007
Supreme Court Limits Pay-Bias Suits

The Supreme Court has ruled 5-4 that the deadline for workers to file a pay-bias complaint under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act is 180 days from the date the decision on their pay is made and communicated to them.

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In general, an individual wishing to bring a discrimination lawsuit must first file a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission within 180 days "after the alleged unlawful employment practice occurred."

The question before the Supreme Court was whether the clock on that 180 days restarts each time an employee receives a paycheck that reflects past discrimination.

Lilly Ledbetter was a supervisor at Goodyear Tire and Rubber's plant in Gadsden, Alabama, from 1979 until her retirement in 1998. At first, her pay was in line with the salaries of men, but over time a gap developed between her salary and the pay of male area managers with equal or less seniority. By the end of 1997, Ledbetter was the only woman working as an area manager and was paid $3,727 per month. By comparison, the pay of the lowest paid male area manager was $4,286 per month.

Ledbetter sued in 1998, alleging disparate treatment. The company argued that the suit should be dismissed because Ledbetter failed to file a complaint with the EEOC within 180 days of the previous pay decisions that Ledbetter alleges were discriminatory.

However, Ledbetter argued that the clock on the 180-day deadline restarted after each paycheck that reflected past discrimination. She claimed that each time the company issued her a paycheck, the company demonstrated an intent to discriminate and violated Title VII.

However, the majority rejected her arguments, saying Ledbetter should have filed a complaint after each pay decision.

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

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