In May 2007, the Supreme Court issued a 5-4 decision, in Ledbetter v Goodyear, that tosses aside prior law and makes it much harder for workers to pursue pay discrimination claims. The court held that a worker must file a charge of pay discrimination within 180 days of the employer's first decision to pay someone less for discriminatory reasons.
On July 31, 2007, the House passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, H.R. 2831, which would rectify the Supreme Court's decision, thereby simply restoring the longstanding interpretation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act - that each paycheck that results from a discriminatory decision is itself a discriminatory act that resets the clock on the 180-day period within which a worker must file.
The Supreme Court decision ignores the realities of the workplace - where employees generally do not know enough about what their co-workers earn, or how pay decisions are made, to file a complaint precisely when discrimination first occurs. Indeed, in a large proportion of U.S. companies, salaries are confidential.
This legislation takes its name from Lilly Ledbetter, who worked for nearly 20 years at a Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company facility in Alabama. She sued the company after learning that she was paid less then her male counterparts at the facility, despite having more experience than several of them. A jury found that her employer had unlawfully discriminated against her on the basis of sex.
However, the Supreme Court said that Ledbetter had waited too long to sue for pay discrimination, despite the fact that she filed a charge with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission as soon as she received an anonymous note alerting her to pay discrimination.
While Ledbetter filed her charge within 180 days of receiving discriminatory pay, the court ruled that, since Ledbetter did not raise a claim within 180 days of the employer's decision to pay her less, she could not receive any relief. Employees in Ledbetter's position would be forced to live with discriminatory paychecks for the rest of their careers under this Supreme Court decision.