Today, in a 5-4 decision, with the majority opinion by Justice Samuel Alito (NJ born and bred) and a dissent authored by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (NJ's via a professorship at Rutgers Law School), the United States Supreme Court decided an important issue of procedure dealing with EEOC filing requirements in Title VII cases. We've posted previously on Ledbetter v. Goodyear.
Long story made short, the plaintiff sued her employer for alleged sexual discrimination under Title VII. Her main argument was that over time she was paid significantly less than similarly situated male workers. Goodyear made pay decisions based upon performance evaluations. Ledbetter claimed that she received unfavorable evaluations because of her gender, that she was therefore paid less than the men, and that these decisions carried forward through the years so that, by the time she retired, she was significantly underpaid. The trial court jury agreed and awarded her damages. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed.
In a rather technical interpretation of Title VII, the Supreme Court agreed that she was not entitled to recover. It held that she had not met the requirement of the law that she file a timely claim with the EEOC for each discrete act of discrimination.
The practical import of the decision for employees: file your claims of intentional discrimination on time or be forever barred from pursuing them. That, according to the majority, is what Congress intended.
The four dissenting justices thought that pay cases are different from other kinds of Title VII cases (such as failure to hire) and deserve different and more flexible treatment.
Under federal law the issue is now decided: pay-based claims of discrimination under Title VII must comply strictly with Title VII's filing requirements. But does this tell the whole story for NJ employers and employees? Probably not. The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination contains the same prohibition against gender-based discrimination as does Title VII, but has no requirement that claims first be filed with an administrative agency. Therefore, the logic of Ledbetter v. Goodyear should not bar such claims under NJ state law. Looked at differently, if Ms. Ledbetter had filed the same complaint in New Jersey and pursued it in the same way, she probably would have won.
Thus, NJ employers cannot take too much comfort from the Ledbetter decision. NJ employees likely still have an option open.