SCOTUS: Pay Discrimination Rulz

Leave it to the new justice on the block, Alito, to deliver the opinion of the “gang of five” in this pay discrimination suit, Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire (2007). Essentially, the court yesterday trivialized the spirit of Title VII, and the Bush administration got to abandon its own EEOC’s findings and come down in favor of the “principle” of discrimination.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday made it harder for many workers to sue their employers for discrimination in pay, insisting in a 5-to-4 decision [Alito, Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas v. Ginsburg, Stevens, Souter and Breyer] on a tight time frame to file such cases. The court held on Tuesday that employees may not bring suit under the principal federal anti-discrimination law unless they have filed a formal complaint with a federal agency within 180 days after their pay was set. The timeline applies, according to the decision, even if the effects of the initial discriminatory act were not immediately apparent to the worker and even if they continue to the present day.”

Just reading the decision is like reading a school-yard bully insisting he rolled a six instead of a five.

Writes Alito: “Ledbetter should have filed an EEOC charge within 180 days after each allegedly [sic] discriminatory pay decision was made and communicated to her. She did not do so, and the paychecks that were issued to her during the 180 days prior to the filing of her EEOC charge do not provide a basis for overcoming that prior failure.”

You have to scroll through the decision to understand how extraordinarily stupid that statement actually is, but Lilly Ledbetter, the petitioner, didn’t even become aware of the discriminatory pay decisions made by Goodyear (they were giving raises to male employees in similar positions far exceeding the raises she received) for more than a year after the practice went into effect. And there is no “allegedly”, as Alito insinuates, since a jury found evidence that Goodyear did indeed discriminate and ordered the Tire giant to pay her in the neighborhood of a $3 million judgment for back pay and damages.

As Justice Ginsburg notes in her dissent (which she read aloud from the bench yesterday, a sure sign of being pissed off), Alito and the gang of five “overlook common characteristics of pay discrimination,” including the fact that because most salary decisions made by companies are “private matters”, Ledbetter would have had no way of knowing her raises were not commensurate with her male colleagues (i.e. discriminatory under Title VII’s protection). As she notes, “Pay disparities, of the kind Ledbetter experienced, have a closer kinship to hostile work environment claims than to charges of a single episode of discrimination.”

It’s a sad and lurid decision, but not wholly unexpected given the Roberts/Alito philosophy of “standing”. These guys would rather debate whether petitioner has the right to be in the court (or in this case, quibble over time frames for filing suit) rather than discussing the actual facts of the case, which showed that Goodyear discriminated against a female employee.

And how ’bout them Bushies abandoning their own EEOC and coming down in favor of their justices? Er, I mean, in favor of business? Er, I mean, in favor of discrimination?


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3 Responses to SCOTUS: Pay Discrimination Rulz

  1. Darrell Prows says:

    There was also something about Ginsburg suggesting that Congress “overrule” the case with a clarification of the main statutory language at issue. Having the right party in charge not only can prevent the Alito’s from getting on the bench but can also limit how much damage they can do if they get there.

    Funny how the left seems to still manage to be very commited to the concept of a professional judiciary, while the right is actually alone in trying to pack the courts with activists.

  2. mbk says:

    Darrell: I agree! Watching what the Scalia-Thomas crowd DOES pretty much gives the lie to their self-description as “strick constructionist, non-activist” judges.

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