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The Year in Review: #4. Tug-of-War

The Supreme Court dealt a decisive blow to many pending pay discrimination suits with its May decision in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. Justice Alito's opinion starts running the 180-day charge period for Title VII suits when the employer makes the initial decision that leads to pay discrimination--even if that decision leads to years of unequal pay.

That was the case with Lilly Ledbetter. She didn't find out her employer was paying her less than her male counterparts until she was nearing retirement, meaning her claim was time-barred by about 19 years. She argued that because the initial decision to pay her less than male employees led to lower paychecks throughout the course of her career, the statute of limitations should be restarted each time she was paid.

Alito's logic in rejecting that argument was sound--allowing Title VII claims for discriminatory decisions that occurred decades ago would deluge employers with litigation they could neither foresee nor prevent.

Yet despite the inherent logic of the decision, Ledbetter's situation engendered sympathy in high places. In July the House passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2007, which would restart the statute of limitations "each time compensation is paid pursuant to the discriminatory compensation decision." Moreover, the act would apply not only to Title VII, but also to the ADEA, ADA and the Rehabilitation Act. At press time the Senate was still considering the bill.

"It's unlikely to pass in the Senate and, if it does, it is unlikely to withstand George Bush's veto, which he's already threatened," says Debra Friedman, a partner at Cozen O'Connor in Philadelphia. "The opposition to the act is becoming clearer and the employment community is rallying against it."

Adele Nicholas

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