Monday, June 26, 2006
New Title VII Case Set for Supreme Court Argument: Ledbetter v. Goodyear
ScotusBlog reports that the United States Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case involving the timing surrounding unequal pay decisions in Title VII cases:
The labor case to be heard is Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber (05-1074), seeking a ruling on the legal formula to be used in calculating the timing of unequal pay decisions by employers for purposes of Title VII lawsuits.
Here is the Eleventh Circuit's decision in the Ledbetter decision from last year. From the introduction of that case:
The employee, Lilly Ledbetter, claims that Goodyear paid her a smaller salary than it paid her male co-workers at Goodyear’s Gadsden, Alabama, tire plant because of her sex. Goodyear’s position, in addition to denying that sex played any role in the setting of her salary, is that Ledbetter may prevail only if she can prove that unlawful discrimination tainted an annual review of her salary made within 180 days of her filling a charge of discrimination with the EEOC. The question we must decide, therefore, is how Title VII’s timely-filing requirement applies in this specie of disparate pay cases—that is, cases involving an employer that annually reviews and re-establishes employee salary levels.
Finding for Goodyear, the 11th Cir. held:
We conclude that in the search for an improperly motivated, affirmative decision directly affecting the employee’s pay, the employee may reach outside the limitations period created by her EEOC charge no further that the last such decision immediately preceding the start of the limitations period. We do not hold that an employee may reach back even that far; what we hold is that she may reach no further . . . . We conclude that no reasonable juror could find intentional discrimination in either of the two decisions setting Ledbetter’s salary as it existed during the limitations period.
An interesting procedural issue under the timely-filing requirement of Title VII, indeed. My initial reaction is that this case should be decided on the basis of National Railroad Passenger Corp. v. Morgan, 536 U.S. 101 (2002). That case seemed to say that the employment discrimination world is divided into two mutually exclusive categories for purposes of determining timeliness of claims: (1) discrete acts of discrimination like termination; and (2) hostile environment claims, whose very nature involves repeated conduct.
Because in these pay disparity cases the unlawful employment practice can be said to occur on particular days as opposed to over a series of days or years, it is likely that the Court will conclude that a Title VII plaintiff must raise a discrete discriminatory act claim within the applicable (here, 180 days) time period. In this regard, the Court will still find for Goodyear, but will modify the 11th Circuit's reasoning.
FWIW, I do not necessarily agree that this is the best way to vindicate the interests served by Title VII; nevertheless, given relevant precedent and the composition of the current Court, I think this is the best guess as to how the case is likely to come out.