We’re a little tardy in writing about yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling in Ledbetter v. Goodyear. The court ruled that employees must make their discrimination complaints within 180 days â€œafter the alleged unlawful employment practice occurred.â€? In other words, the discrimination occurs at the time a woman is given a salary that is significantly lower than her male counterparts. If she doesn’t catch on to the pay disparity within 180 days, she’s screwed. Which is why Ledbetter’s attorneys had argued that she was discriminated against every time she was handed a paycheck for less money than her male equivalent on the job — not simply when her salary was determined. According to the Times:
Ms. Ledbetterâ€™s salary was initially the same as that of her male colleagues. But over time, as she received smaller raises, a substantial disparity grew. By the time she brought suit in 1998, her salary fell short by as much as 40 percent; she was making $3,727 a month, while the lowest-paid man was making $4,286.
So 180 days isn’t much time to figure out a pay disparity exists. How many people — especially, for example, women in nontraditional professions — talk openly with their coworkers about how much they’re earning?
This is likely to have a chilling effect on employment discrimination suits. As Scott says,
Republicans don’t have to modify or repeal civil rights legislation, and the Court’s needn’t strike it down; the courts and/or the executive branch can just gut the legislation by making it difficult to enforce in ways that don’t attract public attention.
This decision is an even greater incentive to get behind the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would require employers to make employee salaries public so women will know sooner if they’re getting paid less for equal (or more) work.
UPDATE: In comments, Jill Zimon points out that Congressional Dems have responded to the ruling by pledging to pass a law that eliminates the time restriction.
(P.S. For your reading pleasure, Ginsburg’s dissent.)