In a recent Supreme Court case, the Court addressed the issue of discriminatory pay claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Lilly Ledbetter worked in a predominantly male environment, where pay increases were based on performance evaluations. She alleged that her supervisors gave her poor performance reviews based on her sex, and that as a result, her pay was not increased as much as it should have been. By the time she resigned, her pay was significantly lower than that of her male co-workers. Ledbetter submitted a questionnaire to the EEOC in March of 1998 and later filed suit, alleging sex discrimination under Title VII. A jury found in her favor and awarded her backpay and damages. The Eleventh Circuit reversed, finding that Ledbetter's claim was time-barred because the pay decisions about which she complained fell outside the 180-period prior to the filing of her EEOC questionnaire and there was insufficient evidence that the pay decisions which fell within the 180-day period were discriminatory.
On appeal, the Supreme Court was asked to determine under what circumstances an employee could file a Title VII discrimination claim for pay received during the limitations period, but which was the result of intentionally discriminatory actions that occurred outside the period. The Court found that each denial of a pay increase was a discrete act of discrimination (similar to a termination, failure to premote, denial of a transfer and refusal to hire) and that Ledbetter should have filed an EEOC charge each time such conduct occurred. It also held that her claim was time-barred because Ledbetter did not claim intentional discrimination during the 180-day period, only conduct that gave "present effect" to discriminatory conduct which occured outside the period.
What practical effect will this decision have on the workplace? Employees who believe that they have been discriminated against with respect to pay decisions must file their EEOC charge within 180 days of when the pay decision occured. Employees cannot reach back intime to assert claims based on allegedly discriminatory ay decisions which occured outside the period. On a side note, House Democrats have vowed to introduce legislation to overturn this decision.