The U.S. Supreme Court handed employers a major victory in a new 5-4 ruling. No longer will you have to worry that an employment decision you made years — even decades — earlier will come back to haunt you. The court ruled that employees who think they have been discriminated against must act within 180 days of the first allegedly discriminatory act.
The case: At issue was whether an allegedly discriminatory decision on pay made years earlier can form the basis for a continuing-violation lawsuit. Lilly Ledbetter sued Goodyear Tire & Rubber, claiming that after 19 years she was making $6,000 less than the lowest-paid man in the same job. She claimed each paycheck she received over the years was lower based on her starting pay.
A jury agreed and awarded her over $3.8 million. But the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the verdict, and Ledbetter appealed to the Supreme Court, which ruled against her in late May.
Justice Samuel Alito, writing the majority opinion, said that Ledbetter should have filed her claim years earlier, within the deadlines set by the Civil Rights Act of 1964. “This short deadline reflects Congress’s strong preference for the prompt resolution of employment discrimination allegations,” Alito wrote.
It was a close case, and dissenting Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg went so far as to read her dissenting opinion from the bench. That’s very unusual and an indication of the passion she felt about the case. Ginsburg argued that many employees who feel they are being discriminated against don’t want to make waves or may not immediately realize that they are being discriminated against. (Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber, No. 05-1074, U.S. Supreme Court, 2007)
Final note: The Civil Rights Act provides several deadlines for filing a complaint with the EEOC, depending on the state. The deadline in Pennsylvania is 300 days. But employees who also want to sue under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act have just 180 days to file that complaint.