Alex Blaze

Supreme Court rules against employment equality

Filed By Alex Blaze | May 29, 2007 2:56 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: employment discrimination, Lily Ledbetter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Samuel Alito, Supreme court

From the Washington Post:

A divided Supreme Court today ruled that workers may not sue their employers for unequal pay because of discrimination that may have occurred years earlier.

The court ruled 5-4 that Lilly Ledbetter, a supervisor at a tire plant in Gadsden, Ala., did not file her lawsuit against Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. in the timely manner specified by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

A jury had originally awarded her more than $3.5 million because it found it "more likely than not" that sex discrimination during her 19-year career led to her being paid substantially less than her male counterparts.

Alito wrote for the majority, and Roberts, Thomas, Kennedy, and Scalia joined.

They basically decided that even though this woman had received less pay because of employment discrimination (Ginsburg points out in the dissent that it didn't happen all at once; her pay was comparable to the men at her position at first but then slipped behind), and a trial court found enough evidence of that actually having happened, that she would have had to have filed suit within 180 days of when the actual decision that she would make less money happened, not 180 days after her last paycheck, as she did. Alito wrote: "Current effects alone can't breathe life into prior, uncharged discrimination." Because making less money isn't discrimination, it's just an effect of discrimination, and that reasoning is obviously the intent of the Civil Rights Act.

As Ginsburg wrote:

The Court's insistence on immediate contest overlooks
common characteristics of pay discrimination. Pay disparities often occur, as they did in Ledbetter's case, in small increments; cause to suspect that discrimination is at work develops only over time. Comparative pay information, moreover, is often hidden from the employee's
view. Employers may keep under wraps the pay differentials maintained among supervisors, no less the reasons for those differentials. Small initial discrepancies may not be seen as meet for a federal case, particularly when the employee, trying to succeed in a nontraditional environment, is averse to making waves.

Of course, we all know that this is just an attempt to make employment discrimination cases even harder to argue. Now there's a limit on the period of time in which someone can receive that letter, that letter that it seems like everyone needs before they believe even the most evident cases of employment discrimination, the one that says "You're being paid less because you are a woman/gay/trans/black/Jewish", and now a company can send it 181 days after deciding to do just that, and guess what, they're protected.

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