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.