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Home 9 Federal Legal Corner 9 Pay Discrimination Bill Stalls

Pay Discrimination Bill Stalls

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

In July, 2007, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act but the bill has now stalled in the Senate. The bill’s purpose is to restate the law as it had been interpreted for years before the Supreme Court’s decision in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., 127 S.Ct. 2162, 2176 (2007).

In the case before the Supreme Court, Lilly Ledbetter, a supervisor at Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company had for years received smaller raises than her male peers. A jury found in favor of Ms. Ledbetter and found that Goodyear violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. However, the Supreme Court held that Ms. Ledbetter was not entitled to any relief for the ongoing, continuing discrimination by finding that she had not met the 180-day deadline for filing such claims.

The court held that Ms. Ledbetter had to file a pay discrimination lawsuit within 180 days of Goodyear’s first discriminatory raise, and that the fact that the discrimination continued paycheck after paycheck for 18 years was not relevant. Due to the Ledbetter ruling, workers must file pay discrimination lawsuits within 180 days after the initial discrimination occurred (45 days for federal employees to file informal EEO complaints), and not, as most courts previously allowed, months or years after the initial discrimination because each new paycheck was another discriminatory act. By so ruling, the Supreme Court made it significantly harder for an employee to sue for pay discrimination, in fact encouraging employers to keep salaries and raises even more confidential than they already do, hoping that employees will miss the applicable statute of limitations.

Legislation co-sponsored by Senators Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and Arlen Specter, R-Pa., would restore equal pay for equal work regardless of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age or disability. The legislation would not expand legal rights but return the interpretation of the Title VII statute of limitations to the longstanding rule which treated each and every discriminatory paycheck as a new discrimination, thus restarting the 180 or 45-day clock. Republicans in the Senate prevented consideration of the bill by conducting a filibuster. Supporters of the bill were four votes shy of the required 60 votes that would have overcome the legislative obstruction and allowed lawmakers to take up the act.