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Supreme Court rules on pay discrimination case


WASHINGTON--A closely divided Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that plaintiffs alleging illegal pay discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 must file a complaint within 180 days of the alleged offense.

The case--Lilly Ledbetter vs. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.--began in 1998 when Ms. Ledbetter, an employee at Goodyear's Gadsden, Ala., plant, sued Goodyear, claiming it 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 within 180 days of filing her discrimination charge that unlawful discrimination affected an annual salary review.

Under Title VII, a charge of unlawful employment practice must be filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission within 180 days of the alleged offense. But Ms. Ledbetter argued that Goodyear made a series of intentionally discriminatory pay decisions, some of which went back 19 years, and that those decisions affected her later earnings.

A district court jury took Ms. Ledbetter's salary history into account before awarding various damages, 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 Goodyear's most recent pay decision regarding Ms. Ledbetter had not been intentionally discriminatory, a decision Ms. Ledbetter appealed to the Supreme Court.

By a 5-to-4 margin, the high court rejected Ms. Ledbetter's appeal.

Writing for the majority, Associate Justice Samuel Alito noted that Ms. Ledbetter made a "variety of policy arguments in favor of giving the alleged victims of pay discrimination more time before they are required to file a charge with the EEOC. Among other things, she claims that pay discrimination is harder to detect than other forms of employment discrimination." But Justice Alito continued that the "policy arguments for giving special treatment to pay claims find no support in the statute and are inconsistent with our precedents."

Lilly Ledbetter vs. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. U.S. Supreme Court. No. 05-1074. Decided May 29, 2007.