Yahoo reports today that the Supreme Court has heard oral argument in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. The case raises a technical but important issue about the period of time for which a Title VII plaintiff can recover back pay. The issue involves the application of the 180 day time limit for complaining about discriminatory employment practices.
After 19 years at a Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. plant in Gadsden, Ala., Lilly Ledbetter was making $6,000 a year less than the lowest-paid man in the same job.
She filed a pay discrimination lawsuit in 1999, arguing the disparity existed for years and was primarily a result of her gender. A federal jury agreed and awarded Ledbetter more than $3.8 million. A judge reduced the award to $360,000.
Goodyear appealed and the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the trial court's award, holding that her time to complain had passed long ago.
Ledbetter then appealed to the Supreme Court. She contends that each new paycheck that she receives continues the discrimination that started when she was first employed and is a new violation of her civil rights.
This is a case that contains both a serious legal issue and significant practical ramifications for business if Ledbetter wins. It bears careful watching, and watch it we will. A decision is expected in the summer.