Ledbetter is Fair Warning for Liberals

Last week, Republicans blocked a fair pay bill that would effectively overturn a flawed ruling by the Supreme Court in a wage discrimination case, Lilly Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. The measure was designed to bring the law in line with Congressional intent of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the Court's own precedents, and restore fairness to the workplace.

For nearly 20 years, Lilly Ledbetter was paid less than men with less seniority than her as a supervisor at a Goodyear plant in Alabama for doing the same job. But as soon as she received an anonymous note that made her aware of the discrimination, Ms. Ledbetter filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. A federal court agreed Ms. Ledbetter was being discriminated against and a jury awarded her more than $3 million in damages and back pay before the judge reduced the amount to $360,000 due to a damages cap prescribed by the law. But the Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision ruled that Lilly Ledbetter filed her claim too late and was not entitled to compensation.

The 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibits workplace discrimination on the basis of race, sex, creed, disability, age, but also requires that a plaintiff file a complaint within the 180 days “after the alleged unlawful employment practice occurred.” For decades, the Supreme Court and other courts understood this provision to mean that employees could sue within 180 of receiving from their last - not just their first - discriminatory paycheck, since each check represented a related yet distinct instance of discrimination.

Justice Samuel Alito, however, disagreed with that interpretation.


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