Supreme Court Limits Claims of Workplace Bias

Greg Stohr for Bloomberg News reports: Workers can’t sue under a federal job-bias law to claim they are underpaid because of gender or race discrimination that occurred years earlier, a divided U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a victory for employers.

The justices, voting 5–4, rejected a $360,000 award to Lilly Ledbetter, an Alabama Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. worker who said almost two decades of discrimination meant her salary was 15% to 40% lower than what her male counterparts earned.

The 1964 Civil Rights Act typically gives workers 180 days from the time of the alleged discrimination to file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The question was whether workers can claim that their most recent paychecks are affected by bias that took place outside the 180-day window.

“Current effects alone cannot breathe life into prior, uncharged discrimination,” Justice Alito wrote for the majority. ” Ledbetter should have filed an EEOC charge within 180 days after each allegedly discriminatory pay decision was made and communicated to her.”

Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Scalia, Kennedy, and Thomas joined Justice Alito’s opinion. Lower courts were divided on the issue.

Justice Ginsburg, the court’s only woman, took the unusual step of reading a summary of her dissent from the bench as she sat next to Justice Alito. She said the majority “does not comprehend, or is indifferent to, the insidious way in which women can be victims of pay discrimination.”

“Today’s decision counsels: Sue early on, when it is uncertain whether discrimination accounts for the pay disparity you are experiencing,” Justice Ginsburg said