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Justices Limit Time Employees Can Sue over Pay Disparity

The Supreme Court in a 5-4 ruling Tuesday limited workers' ability to sue employers for pay discrimination that results from decisions made years earlier. Marcia Coyle of the National Law Journal explains the ruling's significance.

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  • JIM LEHRER:

    Now, today's U.S. Supreme Court decision on pay discrimination, as reported by NewsHour regular Marcia Coyle of the National Law Journal.

    Marcia, welcome.

  • MARCIA COYLE, National Law Journal:

    Thanks, Jim.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    First, the basic facts of this case. What are they?

  • MARCIA COYLE:

    Lilly Ledbetter was a production supervisor in the Goodyear Tire and Rubber plant in Gadsden, Alabama. She was in that job for nearly 20 years. In 1998, she left the plant because she was going to be transferred to a job that was less preferable to her. She filed a claim of discrimination, that her pay was lower than it should have been all those years she worked, and it was lower because of her sex.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    And what happened with her lawsuit that she filed?

  • MARCIA COYLE:

    She proved to a jury that Goodyear had…

  • JIM LEHRER:

    A regular federal district court jury?

  • MARCIA COYLE:

    Yes, absolutely, that Goodyear had discriminated on the basis of gender in her salary, and she won damages. She won back pay of about $200,000. She won punitive damages of over $3 million. The $3 million was reduced to $300,000, because Title VII, the statute that governs these types of lawsuits, caps those damages.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    All right, then it went through the appeals process.

  • MARCIA COYLE:

    Yes, it did. And an appellate court threw it all out. She lost everything.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    This is the U.S. appeals court?

  • MARCIA COYLE:

    Yes, it is, because the appellate court said she had not filed her claim within the 180 days that the law requires. Title VII, as you know, is the federal statute that bars discrimination in the workplace on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin and religion. Before you can bring a suit under Title VII, you have to file what they call a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

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