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Justices Hear Both Sides of Wage Discrimination Case

The Supreme Court heard arguments Monday on a case dealing with the statute of limitations on claims of gender discrimination in pay. Marcia Coyle of the National Law Journal explains the arguments.

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    Lilly Ledbetter worked for the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company for 19 years. When she retired in 1998, Ledbetter got an anonymous letter saying she had been paid significantly less than her male colleagues doing the same work.

    Ledbetter sued, charging Goodyear with wage discrimination. A jury ruled in her favor, but the verdict was thrown out on appeal. The case made its way to the Supreme Court today.

    Here to tell us about it is NewsHour regular Marcia Coyle of the National Law Journal.

    And, Marcia, Title VII of the federal code says you can't pay women less for the same work just because they're women. So how did this end up in the high court?

  • MARCIA COYLE, National Law Journal:

    OK. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as you know, bars discrimination in employment on the basis of race, color, gender, national origin and religion. But it also has a requirement that you must bring your charge of discrimination within 180 days of the illegal employment practice that you are challenging.

    Ms. Ledbetter, even though she won a jury verdict in her favor, lost on appeal to Goodyear because the appeals court found that her claim was filed too late, that it was not brought within the 180-day period.

    The claim is that there were a series of discriminatory decisions made about her pay over the years. She feels that each paycheck is the illegal employment practice and the 180-day clock starts running with each paycheck.

    Goodyear argues that that is not the illegal employment practice; it's when the discriminatory decision is made. They argue that her claim involving her last paycheck that was filed — that she received during the 180-day period — there was no intentional discrimination, so there was no Title VII violation. You cannot look outside of that 180-day period to prove Title VII violation.


    So let's see if I understand this. Goodyear is arguing that, in order to have a case, Ms. Ledbetter would have had to have taken them to court in her first six months on the job?


    Well, either the first six months or within six months of whenever the discriminatory pay decision was made.


    The decision to pay her less because she's a woman?


    Yes. That's correct.