U.S. Supreme Court Limits Employee Job-Bias Claims
In a 5 to 4 decision issued on May 29, 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court held that an employee could not assert a Title VII pay discrimination claim against her employer based on allegedly discriminatory pay decisions that occurred outside the applicable EEOC charging period. See Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., No. 05-1074 (May 29, 2007); (Opinion available at: www.supremecourtus.gov/opinions/06pdf/05-1074.pdf).
In Ledbetter, the plaintiff-employee alleged that her supervisors had previously given her poor evaluations based on her gender that resulted in her receiving a lower salary under Goodyear’s performance-based pay system. Although she did not file an EEOC charge with respect to those pay decisions, in her EEOC questionnaire that formed the basis of her lawsuit against Goodyear, she claimed that the paychecks she received during the applicable 180-day EEOC charging period and her supervisors’ decisions to deny her salary raises during that same charging period, gave present effect to Goodyear’s prior discriminatory conduct. She therefore argued that the paychecks and the denials of raises each violated Title VII and triggered new EEOC charging periods, such that her pay discrimination claim was timely.
A majority of the Supreme Court, however, disagreed. The Court noted that the plaintiff had not alleged that Goodyear engaged in any intentionally discriminatory conduct during the charging period and rejected the plaintiff’s theory that Goodyear’s pre-charging period discriminatory conduct was actionable based on its subsequent effects during the charging period. The Court explained that the plaintiff’s attempt to shift discriminatory intent from Goodyear’s pre-charging period conduct to its nondiscriminatory conduct within the charging period was insufficient to “breathe life into prior, uncharged discrimination[.]” Id. at 9. Rather, the plaintiff was required to file an EEOC charge within 180 days after each allegedly discriminatory pay decision was made and communicated to her. Because she failed to file any charge within the prescribed time period, her Title VII pay discrimination claim against Goodyear was untimely. The Court therefore affirmed the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision reversing a jury verdict and award in the plaintiff’s favor on the pay discrimination claim.
Keesal, Young & Logan Employment Group