If you thought last year’s U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Ledbetter case made it clear that employees must file EEOC complaints within 300 days of suffering a discriminatory pay decision, think again. That deadline applies only to sex discrimination cases brought under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.
Women have up to two years from the date of the last payment affected by sex-based wage discrimination to file a direct court action under the Equal Pay Act (EPA) and never have to take that claim to the EEOC. If they can show that their employers willfully violated the EPA, they have up to three years to sue.
Recent case: Terry Atkins and Valerie Mitchell claimed they encountered a rampantly discriminatory environment while they worked for Coca-Cola. After they left the company, they discovered that they might have been paid far less than males who performed the same jobs they held. They sued under both Title VII’s sex discrimination provision and the EPA.
The court said the women had to show that within 300 days of their EEOC complaint, Coca-Cola had made a discriminatory decision based on sex. Plus, they had to show that they filed their EPA lawsuit within two years of the last sex-based wage discrimination.
But unlike Title VII, the EPA allows women to file that claim from the date of the last paycheck affected by the sex-based wage discrimination.
In the end, the court dismissed the EPA claim because it had been more than two years since the women quit and got their last paychecks. However, in principle, the EPA gives women a way around the Ledbetter decision if they can show a wage system biased against their sex. (Atkins, Mitchell v. Coca-Cola Enterprises, No. 07-C-1038, ND IL, 2007)
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