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WASHINGTON--The Supreme Court will decide whether a plaintiff can sue for illegal pay discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 after the statute of limitations requiring that any charge be filed within 180 days after the alleged unlawful practice occurred.
The court heard arguments in Lilly Ledbetter vs. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. on Monday.
Ms. Ledbetter worked at a Goodyear plant in for Gadsden, Ala., from 1979 until 1998. In 1998, she sued Goodyear, claiming the company paid her less than her male counterparts because of her gender. Goodyear reviewed her salary annually, and Goodyear held that her case depended on whether she could prove that unlawful discrimination impacted an annual salary review within 180 days of her filing her discrimination charge.
Title VII holds that a charge of unlawful employment practice must be filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission within 180 days of the alleged offense.
A jury, however, took into account 19 years of Ms. Ledbetter's salary history before ruling in her favor. The jury awarded her nearly $224,000 in back pay, $4,662 for mental anguish and nearly $2.29 million in punitive damages. The judge later reduced both the back pay and punitive damages awards.
But the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the lower court in August 2005, holding that "all we need to do is examine the last salary decision Goodyear made that affected" Ms. Ledbetter's pay during the limitations period. The appeals court said that Goodyear's most recent pay decision regarding Ms. Ledbetter had not been intentionally discriminatory.
The appeals court's decision led Ms. Ledbetter to appeal to the Supreme Court.