On May 29, 2007, the Supreme Court handed down Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Col, Inc., – U.S. –, 127 S.Ct. 2162 (2007), a decision favorable to employers and enforcing the timeliness requirements under Title VII for bringing a claim for alleged discriminatory pay. The court ruled that an employer’s decision setting an employee’s pay or raise within an otherwise neutral pay structure was a “discrete act,” triggering the running of the limitations period under Title VII. The plaintiff argued unsuccessfully that the pay claim was always timely because the disparate pay continued and compounded throughout her employment.
The female plaintiff, a former nineteen-year salaried employee for Goodyear, first brought an EEOC charge only a few months before her retirement. She filed suit after her retirement asserting, among others, a claim for Title VII pay discrimination and a claim under the Equal Pay Act. Most of her claims were dismissed on summary judgment, including the Equal Pay Act claim, and a trial was held on her Title VII pay claim. At trial, the plaintiff’s evidence focused on several pay decisions during her employment alleged to be based on discriminatory performance evaluations. She claimed these discriminatory pay decisions continued to keep her pay low throughout her employment. The jury found in favor of the plaintiff and awarded her damages. On appeal, the Eleventh Circuit reversed, finding that the plaintiff’s Title VII claim was untimely except as to the decisions made within the limitations period before her EEOC charge, and that there was no evidence of discrimination regarding such decisions.
The Supreme Court heard the case to address the question of the timeliness of pay claims, that is, whether each pay check was a new violation or whether the pay decision was the triggering factor. In finding the pay decision as the relevant, discrete employment action at issue so that the limitations period began with notice of that decision, the Supreme Court distinguished its decision in Bazemore v. Friday, 478 U.S. 385, 106 S.Ct. 3000, 92 L.Ed.2d 315 (1986) (per curiam), which involved a racially discriminatory pay system. The system at issue in Bazemore was created prior to Title VII but continued to be applied thereafter. The Court in Ledbetter explained that Bazemore stood for the “proposition that an employer violates Title VII and triggers a new EEOC charging period whenever the employer issues paychecks using a discriminatory pay structure,” and that “a new Title VII violation does not occur and a new charging period is not triggered when an employer issues paychecks pursuant to a system that is ‘facially nondiscriminatory and neutrally applied.’” 127 S.Ct. 2162, 2174 (U.S. 2007). In Ledbetter, there was no claim or evidence that a discriminatory pay system existed.