The Supreme Court today, in a 5-4 decision, limited the ability of victims of employment discrimination to hold their employers accountable. ACSBlog recently examined this case in its "State of the SCOTUS Term" feature:
Gender, Race and the Wage Gap
In Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber, the Court considers to what extent employers may pay lower wages to women and minorities under federal anti-discrimination law. At issue in this case is when the clock begins ticking on the statute of limitations for pay discrimination claims. Lilly Ledbetter alleges that each time she was paid less than her male co-workers for doing the same job, her employer engaged in a new act of discrimination which can be challenged under federal law. The employer says that, once the decision to underpay an employee has been made, the clock starts ticking, and no suits may be brought after the statute of limitations runs out—even if the employee continues to be underpaid in future paychecks.
Duke Law Professor Catherine Fisk argues that a judgment for the employer may prevent many victims of wage discrimination from holding their employers accountable:
A ruling for the employer in Ledbetter will make it difficult for many employees to challenge illegal pay discrimination. The 180-day time for filing claims under Title VII is relatively short, it is difficult for many employees to learn whether they are being paid less than their co-workers, and even those who suspect that they are may be reluctant to sue their employers while still employed at the firm. Moreover, because in many pay schemes, salaries are increased annually by a percentage over the past year's salary, a rule that prevents challenges to past discrimination in salary allows an employer to grant annual raises that are discriminatory in dollar amount so long as the percentage increase is nondiscriminatory. Thus, an employee whose starting salary is set discriminatorily low but who later receives the same five percent annual raise as other employees will forever receive smaller raises than co-workers.