On Jan. 29, 2009, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act took effect, making it easier for women and others to sue for pay discrimination that may date back decades. The law, retroactive to May 2007, liberalizes statutes of limitations on when employees can file such lawsuits.
Drafted in response to a 2007 U.S. Supreme Court decision that said employees had at most 300 days to file pay discrimination complaints, the new law counts each unfairly low paycheck as a fresh discriminatory act. It caps damages at $300,000 and retains current limits on back pay to two years’ worth.
In Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber, 127 S.Ct. 2162, the Supreme Court affirmed a Title VII provision requiring employees to file pay discrimination complaints within 180 days of the alleged discriminatory act (300 days in cases covered by a state or local anti-discrimination law).
Lilly Ledbetter argued that each low paycheck she received over the years constituted a new discriminatory act. But the court said the discriminatory act happened decades earlier, when Goodyear first hired her at a pay rate below that of male employees. Since more than 180 days had passed since then, the court said Ledbetter could not sue her employer.
The Ledbetter Fair Pay Act amends Title VII to make clear that each allegedly unfair paycheck shall be considered a fresh incident of discrimination.