Ledbetter Equal Pay Act Passes Congress

January 29, 2009

In response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. (2007) 550 U.S. 618,  Congress passed Senate Bill 181 (the “Lilly Ledbetter Fairy Pay Act of 2009″). There have been a number of attempts to legislatively alter the Ledbetter decision, which held that the statute of limitations for filing a Title VII charge of employment discrimination with the EEOC begins when the discrete discriminatory act occurs.

In Ledbetter’s case, she claimed she was paid a lower salary than her male counter-parts.  Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. avoided liability by establishing the fact that Ledbetter’s salary had been lower than her male counter-parts for years.  Since discrimination claims must be filed with the EEOC within 180 days of the discrimination (or 300 days in some states), the court held that Ms. Ledbetter failed to timely exhaust her administrative remedies despite the fact that the consequences of discriminatory pay practice continued.  In essence, the court felt that the discriminatory act occured when Ms. Ledbetter initially received the lower pay and the fact that the lower pay led to lower raises over the next several years creating an even greater disparity was insufficient to start a new violation.  Employee advocates dissatisfied with the decision immediately began petitioning the legislature to amend Title VII.

Senate Bill 181 amends Title VII, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act, to clarify that a unlawful discriminatory compensation decisions occur each time compensation is paid pursuant to the discriminatory compensation decision.  The bill willmake it unlawful each time an employer writes a paycheck that gives some workers less than others, because of race, sex, disability, religion or national origin.  The bill still needs to be approved by President Obama.  Once signed into law, it will apply to bias claims that filed on or after May 28, 2007.

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