A Supreme Court ruling issued yesterday will limit the ability of many workers to sue for wage discrimination. The 5-4 decision prohibits an employee from legally challenging a case of wage discrimination more than 180 days after the original discriminatory act occurred. Yesterday’s ruling in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. will virtually eliminate an employee’s legal recourse against wage discrimination after the statute of limitations has ended, even if the discrimination is ongoing. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 established the statute of limitations.
In the dissenting opinion, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote that the decision could harm women, who on average make only 77 cents for every man’s dollar. Women’s wages could begin at an equal level with a man’s and then decrease over time, as Ledbetter’s did, or women might not become aware of the discrimination until years after it began. Ginsburg said in court, according to the Associated Press, “In our view, this court does not comprehend, or is indifferent to, the insidious way in which women can be victims of pay discrimination.”
Marcia Greenberger, co-president of the National Women’s Law Center, said of the decision, “Not only does the ruling ignore the reality of pay discrimination, it also cripples the law’s intent to address it, and undermines the incentive for employers to prevent and correct it.”
The case was originally brought by Lilly Ledbetter, who worked for Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company for 19 years before realizing that she was paid significantly less than her male counterparts with the same or less experience. A jury sided with Ledbetter after she pressed charges in 1998, but an Atlanta federal appeals court later reversed the decision.