Under the federal Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, employees who believe their paychecks reflect a discriminatory pay decision made years or even decades ago can still sue. The legal rationale: That each subsequent paycheck was theoretically lower than it should have been and each pay period amounts to a new violation.
However, that principle doesn’t apply if an employee pursues a state pay discrimination claim under the Texas Commission on Human Rights Act. Instead, employees have to file a complaint within 180 days of the discriminatory pay decision, not from the date of the last paycheck.
Recent case: Diljit, a woman of Indian national origin, is a professor at Prairie View A&M University. She began working for the university in 1987 and applied for a promotion from associate professor to full professor in 2003. Initially denied, she reapplied the following year and was promoted. However, she thought her salary was too low because of discrimination. The university refused to raise Diljit’s pay, citing budget constraints.
Diljit did nothing for several years, but finally filed complaints with the EEOC and the Texas Workforce Commission. She claimed a continuing violation and said her paychecks reflected discrimination every payday.
The case ended up in the Texas Supreme Court. The university argued that Diljit should have filed her complaint within 180 days of the promotion.
The court agreed. It said that while the U.S. Congress made an exception for late pay discrimination claims by enacting the Ledbetter Act, the Texas Legislature didn’t follow suit. Therefore, state pay discrimination claims must commence within 180 days of the original alleged discriminatory act. (Prairie View A&M University v. Chatka, No. 10-0353, Supreme Court of Texas, 2012)