Thursday, April 24, 2008

Lebetter v. Goodyear and the Future of Civil Rights

In case you don't pay attention to civil rights, I'll give you the quick summary of Ledbetter v. Goodyear. Ms. Ledbetter worked for Goodyear a long time, decades actually. And, when she retired she became aware that she made about $6,000 less annually than her male cohorts. As this was the first she became aware of the disparity, she filed a complaint against Goodyear for the pay she didn't receive on the basis of pay equity.

No one disputes Ms. Ledbetter's qualities as an employee of Goodyear. She was a fine employee. But, the Supreme Court ruled against her claim because she filed it too long after the company violated her rights.

This ruling is due to what employment discrimination folks call "temporal proximity" -- in other words, was the complaint filed shortly after the alleged act of discrimination. Shortly is often considered within 90 days but can be even shorter in some cases. The problem with the Supreme Court's ruling is that temporal proximity is really aimed more at retaliatory actions and not, as in Ms. Ledbetter's case, systemic acts of discrimination. The Court is simply wrong in its ruling.

What's even worse is that with this ruling, the Court essentially said to employers, "You can discriminate against your employees as long as they don't find out in time."

Congress is attempting to amend the laws so that the EEOC and the courts will have to allow for longer periods for filing cases. The House passed an amendment to make the language fairer. Republicans are holding it back in the Senate. The President is promising to veto the bill.

No comments: