Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company

PETITIONER:Lilly M. Ledbetter
RESPONDENT:The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company, Inc.
LOCATION:Carhart’s Residence

DOCKET NO.: 05-1074
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2006-2009)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

CITATION: 550 US 618 (2007)
GRANTED: Jun 26, 2006
ARGUED: Nov 27, 2006
DECIDED: May 29, 2007

ADVOCATES:
Glen D. Nager – argued the cause for Respondent
Irving L. Gornstein – argued the cause for Respondent
Kevin K. Russell – argued the cause for Petitioner

Facts of the case

Over her nineteen-year career at Goodyear Tire, Lilly Ledbetter was consistently given low rankings in annual performance-and-salary reviews and low raises relative to other employees. Ledbetter sued Goodyear for gender discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, alleging that the company had given her a low salary because of her gender. A jury found for Ledbetter and awarded her over $3.5 million, which the district judge later reduced to $360,000.

Goodyear appealed, citing a Title VII provision that requires discrimination complaints to made within 180 days of the employer’s discriminatory conduct. The jury had examined Ledbetter’s entire career for evidence of discrimination, but Goodyear argued that the jury should only have considered the one annual salary review that had occurred within the 180-day limitations period before Ledbetter’s complaint.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit reversed the lower court, but without adopting Goodyear’s position entirely. Instead the Circuit Court ruled that the jury could only examine Ledbetter’s career for evidence of discrimination as far back as the last annual salary review before the start of the 180-day limitations period. The Circuit Court ruled that the fact that Ledbetter was getting a low salary during the 180 days did not justify the evaluation of Goodyear’s decisions over Ledbetter’s entire career. Instead, only those annual reviews that could have affected Ledbetter’s payment during the 180 days could be evaluated. The Circuit Court found no evidence of discrimination in those reviews, so it reversed the District Court and dismissed Ledbetter’s complaint.

Question

Can a plaintiff bring a salary discrimination suit under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 when the disparate pay is received during the 180-day statutory limitations period, but is the result of discriminatory pay decisions that occurred outside the limitations period?

Media for Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – November 27, 2006 in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – May 29, 2007 in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

Justice Alito has our opinion this morning in Case 05-1074; Ledbetter v Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company.

Samuel A. Alito, Jr.:

This case comes to us on writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.

The petitioner, Lilly Ledbetter sued her employer, Goodyear alleging that it had discriminated against her on the basis of sex by paying her significantly less than her male colleagues.

She originally asserted claims under both Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Equal Pay Acts but she abandoned her Equal Pay Act claim before the case came to us.

A jury returned the verdict in her favor on the Title VII claim but the Eleventh Circuit applying our precedence held that Ledbetter had filed her EEOC charge too late.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes it an unlawful employment practice to discriminate on the basis of sex with respect of the terms and conditions of employment including pay.

Ledbetter asserted a disparate-treatment claim which requires proof of intentional discrimination.

Title VII provides that before an aggrieved employee may file suit in federal court, the employee must first file a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission so that EEOC may attempt to resolve the case without litigation.

In this case Title VII required that the EEOC charge to be filed within 180 days of the alleged discrimination.

In applying this time limit, we have stressed the need to identify with specificity the allegedly discriminatory employment practice on which a claim is based.

We have repeatedly held that the time to file a charge with the EEOC runs from the date, in a disparate-treatment case the date when the unlawfully motivated decision is made and communicated to the employee.

In this case, Ledbetter filed a charge with the EEOC in March 1998 but she does not argue that Goodyear committed any act of intentional discrimination during the 180 day period prior to the filing of this charge.

Instead she relies, on pay decisions made many years earlier and her primary argument is that her charge was timely because she continued to feel the effects of those earlier decisions throughout her employment.

Our established precedence however squarely reject this theory, our case has make it clear that an EEOC charge must be filed within 180 days of the unlawful employment decision itself even if its effects are not felt until later.

The one case on which Ledbetter relies most heavily our decision in Bazemore does not support the argument that she makes here.

She misconstrues that decision and reads it in a way that would make it inconsistent with our other cases in this area.

Ledbetter asks us to depart from our precedence and endorse a special rule for cases involving pay discrimination.

But Title VII does not focus solely on pay; Title VII applies to unlawful employment practices generally.

It does not distinguish pay claims from other sorts of claims because Ledbetter did not file an EEOC charge until long after the acts of intentional discrimination on which she relies her charge was untimely.

We therefore affirm the judgment of the Eleventh Circuit.

Justice Ginsburg has filed a dissenting opinion in which Justices Stevens, Souter and Breyer have joined.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg:

As Justice Alito announced four members of this court, Justices Stevens, Souter, Breyer and I dissent from today’s decision.

In our view, the court does not comprehend or is indifferent to the insidious way in which women can be victims of pay discriminations.

Today’s decision counsels sue early on when it is uncertain whether discrimination accounts for the pay disparity you are beginning to experience.

Indeed, initially you may not know that men are receiving more for substantially similar work.

Of course, you are likely to lose less-than-fully baked case.

If you sue only when the pay disparity becomes steady and large enough to enable you to amount a winnable case, you will be cutoff at the court’s threshold for suing too late and that situation cannot be what Congress intended when Title VII it outlawed discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin in our nation’s workplaces.

Lilly Ledbetter, the plaintiff in this case was engaged as an Area Manager at a Goodyear Tire and Rubber plant in Alabama in 1979.

Her starting salary was inline with the salary of men performing similar work but overtime her pay slipped in comparison to the pay of male employees with equal or less seniority.

By the end of 1997, Ledbetter was the only woman left working as an area manager and the pay discrepancy between Ledbetter and her 15 male counterparts was stark.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg:

Ledbetter’s pay was 15% to 40% less than every other Area Manager.

Ledbetter complained to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in March 1998, she charged that in violations of Title VII, Goodyear paid her a discriminatorily low salary because of her sex.

The charge was eventually were to court and tried to a jury.

The jury found it more likely than not that Goodyear paid Ledbetter an unequal salary because of her sex.

The court today nullifies that verdict holding that Ledbetter’s claim is time barred.

Title VII provides that a charge of discrimination shall be filed within 180 days after the alleged unlawful employment practice occurred.

Ledbetter charged and proved at trial that the pay checks she received within the 180 day filing period were substantially lower than the pay checks received by men doing the same work.

Further, she introduced substantial evidence showing that discrimination accounted for the pay differential indeed that discrimination against women as supervisors was pervasive at Goodyear’s plant.

That evidence was unavailing, the court holds because it was incumbent on Ledbetter to file charges of discrimination year by year.

Each time Goodyear failed to increase her salary, commensurate with the salaries of her male peers.

Any annual pay decision not contested properly within the 180 days.

The court affirm, becomes grandfathered beyond the province of Title VII ever to repair.

Title VII was meant to govern real world employment practices and that world is what the court ignores today.

Pay disparities often occur as they did in Ledbetter’s case in small increments only overtime is their strong cause to suspect that discrimination is at work.

Comparative pay information is not routinely communicated to employees instead it is often hidden from the employees view.

Moral initial discrepancies, even if the employee knows they exist may not be seen as ground for a federal case.

An employee like Ledbetter trying to succeed in a male dominated workplace in a job filled only by men before she was hired, understandably maybe anxious to avoid making leaves.

Pay discrimination that recurs and swells an impact is significantly different from discrete address actions properly communicated and easy to identify at discriminatory.

Events in that category include firing, denial of a promotion or refusal to hire.

In contrast to those unambiguous actions until a pay disparity becomes apparent and sizeable, an employee is unlikely to comprehend her plight and therefore to complain about it.

Ledbetter’s initial readiness to give her employer the benefit of the doubt, she is not preclude her from later seeking redress for the continuing payment to her of the salary depress because of her sex.

As the court reads Title VII, each and every pay decision Ledbetter did not properly challenge, wiped the slate clean.

Never mind the cumulative effect of a series of decisions that together, set her pay well below that of every male Area Manager.

Knowingly carrying past pay discrimination forward must be treated as lawful.

Ledbetter may not be compensated under Title VII for the lower pay she was in fact receiving when she complained to the EEOC.

Notably, the same denial of release would occur at Ledbetter encountered pay discrimination based on race, religion, age, national origin or disability.

This is not the first time this court has ordered a cramped interpretation of Title VII, incompatible with the statutes broad remedial purpose.

In 1991, Congress passed a Civil Rights Act that effectively overruled several of this courts similarly restrictive decisions including one on which the court relies today.

Today, the ball again lies in Congress’ court as in 1991 the legislature has caused to note and to correct this court’s parsimonious reading of Title VII.