Wednesday, May 30, 2007

SCOTUS rejects paycheck accrural rule in Title VII cases

A Title VII plaintiff must also file a charge with the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission either 180 or 300 days “after the alleged unlawful employment practice occurred.” 42 U.S.C.A. § 2000e-5(e)(1). In National R.R. Passenger Corp. v. Morgan, 536 U.S. 101, the United States Supreme Court was careful to differentiate between discrete discriminatory acts and hostile work environment claims. The Court made clear that what constitutes an unlawful employment practice and when an unlawful practice has occurred will differ for discrete discriminatory acts and hostile work environment claims. A discrete act is a demotion, termination, setting of pay, etc. Regarding a “discrete retaliatory or discriminatory act,” the Morgan Court held that such an act occurs on the day that it happens and consequently a party “must file a charge within either 180 or 300 days of the date of the act or lose the ability to recover for it.”

Yesterday the Court decided LEDBETTER v. GOODYEAR TIRE & RUBBER CO. This case involved a supervisor at a Goodyear Tire plant in Alabama, where a female supervisor brought suit because she was being paid less than her male colleagues despite having more seniority. In order to make her claim timely, Ledbetter argued that each paycheck that reflects the initial discrimination is itself a discriminatory act that resets the clock on the 180-day period, under a rule known as “paycheck accrual.” SCOTUS disagreed:

Ledbetter’s arguments here—that the paychecks that she received during the charging period and the 1998 raise denial each violated Title VII and triggered a new EEOC charging period—cannot be reconciled with Evans, Ricks,Lorance, and Morgan. Ledbetter, as noted, makes no claim that intentionally discriminatory conduct occurred during the charging period or that discriminatory decisions that occurred prior to that period were not communicated to her. Instead, she argues simply that Goodyear’s conduct during the charging period gave present effect to discriminatory conduct outside of that period. Brief for Petitioner 13. But current effects alone cannot breathe life into prior, uncharged discrimination; as we held in Evans, such effects in themselves have “no present legal consequences.” 431 U. S.,at 558. Ledbetter should have filed an EEOC charge within 180 days after each allegedly 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.

Linda Greenhouse and other have chided the Court's opinion as unfair. This opinion should come as no shock--its simply extends the reasoning of Morgan to pay setting, which is clearly a discrete act.

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