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It's Only Fair

Pamela Roberts

Pamela Roberts. Photo by Jeff Amberg

The ABA supports efforts in Congress to enact legislation that would offset the impact of a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision on wage discrimination claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other federal laws.

On May 29, the Supreme Court ruled in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., 127 S. Ct. 2162, that statutory limitation provisions in Title VII require that employees file wage discrimination claims with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission within 180 days of the employer’s initial decision that resulted in the discrimina­tory salary.

The court’s 5-4 decision rejected the prevailing view of the EEOC and the lower federal courts that each paycheck that reflected a salary discriminating against an employee on the basis of gender, race, religion or other factors counted as a separate unlawful act triggering the statutory limitation period for filing claims.

The Ledbetter decision has raised concerns that workers will have more difficulty bringing wage discrimination claims under the court’s interpretation of the statutory limitation scheme in Title VII.


A policy recommendation adopted by the ABA House of Delegates in August urges Congress to amend Title VII and related laws to affirm that the statutory limitation period on wage discrimination claims runs from each payment reflecting the claimed unlawful disparity. The recommendation was sponsored by the Commission on Women in the Profession.

“It was necessary for the ABA to speak out in favor of amending Title VII to reflect and implement this nation’s continuing commitment to equal treatment under the law,” says commission chair Pamela J. Roberts of Columbia, S.C. “It was clear that new legislation was necessary to clarify the statute of limitations and thereby ensure that victims of pay discrimination would have a fair chance to vindicate their rights.”

In July, the House of Represent­atives passed a bill sponsored by Rep. George Miller, D-Calif.; and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., introduced a companion measure in the Senate. Both bills would provide that the statute of limitations under Title VII runs from each paycheck that reflects discrimination in pay. The same statutory limitations would apply to pay discrimination claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. In addition, the legis­lation would clarify that an employee is entitled to up to two years of back pay.

In correspondence to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, the ABA emphasized the policy considerations that support federal wage discrimination legislation. Wage discrimination raises different issues than some other types of discrimination in the workplace, according to the ABA’s letter, which was signed by Denise A. Cardman, acting director of the ABA’s Governmental Affairs Office.

In particular, it is more difficult for employees to discern wage discrimination than it is to spot other, more overt employment actions, such as termination or failure to hire. In addition, disparities in pay often occur in small increments that are unlikely to prompt comment or to yield distinct differences in employees’ lifestyles.

“Given the impediments to uncovering disparities in pay,” states the ABA letter, “many employees simply will not be in a position to file an EEOC claim within 180 days after the initial discriminatory decision.”

Rhonda McMillion is editor of Washington Letter, an ABA Governmental Affairs Office publication.

This column is written by the ABA Governmental Affairs Office and discusses advocacy efforts by the ABA relating to issues being addressed by Congress and the executive branch of the federal government.

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