Lilly Ledbetter, Goodyear, Time Limits

I received an email from Credo/Working Assets, a political group, this week asking me to call Sen. Feinstein & urge her to support HR 2831, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.  I’d never heard of this bill before, so I asked LB about it.  Then google helped me read even more, & what usually happens did happen—I became frustrated.  Most of the time when I hear that the statute of limitations has run out on an issue, I wonder what’s the point of having a time constraint.  I realize that witnesses die, minds fade, but whenever possible, shouldn’t we examine past events when a citizen claims to have been wronged?

So to all your fine legal minds on this blog, what’s the fallacy in my thinking?  Are you going to tell me ignorance truly is bliss & that Lilly would have been better off not knowing her rights?

7 Responses to Lilly Ledbetter, Goodyear, Time Limits

  1. laurabethnielsen says:

    Ignoring the fact that I am being accused of being less helpful than google . . .

    You hit all the biggies on reasons for statutes of limitations. Particularly in civil matters, you don’t want liability forever.

    The issue here is not as much statute of limitations in my view, it is the judicial construction of what the discriminatory act is/was. So just briefly, Ledbetter was paid less than her male counterparts for her 19 years at goodyear. When she discovered this upon her retirement, she sued and the goodyear said the discriminatory act was in setting her pay when she was hired. She argued that each issuance of a paycheck was a new discriminatory act. The court sided with goodyear and now congress may override it.

    The question is: do we want to incentivize companies to do pay equity audits? In Canada, you could have a pay equity audit and if you were not paying men and women the same, but corrected it, going forward you would be absolved of past liability. Good idea? Oh yeah, and they use STATISTICS — ooohhh — scary.

  2. jeffaregularworkinglawyer says:

    Generally speaking, there are sound policy reasons for having statutes of limitation. But issues arise concerning when the time limit should begin to run. When the wrongful act occurred? When the plaintiff discovers that she has been injured? When she actually discovers that her injury was caused by the defendant’s wrongful act? When she should have discovered that her injury was caused by the defendant’s wrongful act? This is why it’s so fun to be a lawyer.

    Under Title VII, the 180 day period to bring a charge before the EEOC begins to run when the illegal act of discrimination takes place. But when does the act of sex-based pay discrimination take place? Is it when the initial decision to pay a woman less than her male counterparts because of her sex is made? If so, the woman would have to complain within 180 days of that initial decision, even if she had no reason to know that her male co-workers were being paid more. Or, is the issuance of every new, lower paycheck a separate act of discrimination that restarts the 180-day clock? The Supreme Court in the Lebdetter case held, by a 5-4 vote, that the first position is correct. HR 2831 would amend Title VII to change the law to reflect the second position for claims of unequal pay. (I note that the bill passed the House on pretty much straight party lines.)

    This makes sense to me. If I’m denied employment, or fired, or subject to disciplinary action at work, I know that I have suffered a harm right away. 180 days may be long enough for me to determine whether I think there was a discriminatory motive, and get my rear end down to the EEOC. But as the Ledbetter case showed, it is reasonable to believe that victims of compensation discrimination will not learn that they have suffered an injury within 180 days of the initial decision to discriminate, because they have no easy way to learn what their co-workers are paid.

    Let’s say that the bill becomes law (I wonder if Republicans in the Senate would filibuster it, or if President McCain would veto it), and the next Lilly L., who has been subject to pay discrimination for 20 years, can now sue for the difference between what she got, and what she should have received, over the 180 day period before she filed charges with the EEOC. The first 19.5 years of discrimination are still time-barred. But . . . she can still ask for punitive damages, and she still gets her attorney’s fees if she wins. This increases the employer’s incentive to settle, because he faces exposure for more than just the shortfall in 180 days of pay.

  3. laurabethnielsen says:

    THis is a lovely little comment Jeff, but did you jsut write “President McCain?” I predict no on will want to couples skate with you Friday night if you keep it up. Blech.

  4. jeffaregularworkinglawyer says:

    More on the status of the bill.
    Does anyone know if Pres. Bush has threatened to veto?

  5. jeffaregularworkinglawyer says:

    Skating is Saturday. See you there. And I didn’t realize the bill was coming up in the Senate now. My thought was that Pres. Obama or Pres. Clinton II would certainly not veto, but I wondered about MCain’s position.

  6. laurabethnielsen says:

    The equal pay act is also barely limping along – it is a teensy fraction of all employment civil rights claims. So it is funny that this is such a big deal. It will affect very few companies. Although in all our interviews with ED lawyers over the last 2 years, wage and hour is the new thing and they all want access to back pay data (though it is hard to get organization wide data until you have made a pretty good claim).

  7. lbsmom says:

    Hey, LB, I didn’t intend to say you were less helpful than google. I’ve known you too long to ever make that mistake! Mea culpa anyway…

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