Supreme Court Rules for Employers in Pay-Discrimination Suit

The Supreme Court has ruled employees can't sue their employers over pay discrimination that took place years earlier. And according to Marcia Greenberger, a co-president of the National Women’s Law Center, “The ruling is clearly a very important setback in the ability to eliminate discriminatory pay. It puts people in a terrible bind." (See The New York Times article here.)

Is the ruling a step in the wrong direction?

Much of the reporting and research I've done lately shows American women making great strides in the workplace.

The recent Supreme Court decision isn't one of them.

Putting pay discrimination on a tight deadline is the wrong way to go--the justices in the majority have ignored how difficult it is for an employee to determine how her salary measures up to what her male colleagues earn. Once she does figure it out, it'll probably be too late for her to act if she discovers discrimination, at least according to the new ruling.

Not all women are victims of pay discrimination. But the new ruling does nothing to help those who are.

Background

Here’s the gist of the Supreme Court case, based on reports from The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal:

The Supreme Court voted 5-4 for Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. and against Lilly Ledbetter, an employee for 19 years at Goodyear's Gadsden, Ala., plant. Ledbetter alleged that in the early 1980s, a supervisor gave negative reports on her because she refused his sexual advances; the bad reviews ultimately led to her earning less--by 1997, she was making $3,700 a month, while men at her level earned between $4,300 and $5,200 a month.

The court majority said Ledbetter didn't show intentional discrimination in the 180 days before she complained to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in March 1998.

The court upheld Goodyear's argument, which said the company was protected by federal law against claims of discrimination taking place before Sept. 26, 1997, or 180 days before Ledbetter registered her complaint.

Offering a scathing rebuke of the ruling, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg read some of her dissent aloud, saying the majority "does not comprehend, or is indifferent to, the insidious way in which women can be victims of pay discrimination."

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