Thursday, May 31, 2007

Pay Discrimination & the Supreme Court

Two days ago, the U.S. Supreme Court released a decision in a case called Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. I am not a regular reader of or commenter on Supreme Court decisions, however I thought that this particular decision is worth mentioning.

This court case is about a woman who was employed by Goodyear for 20 years, and a lower court determined that for years she was discriminated against on the basis of her sex, and that this discrimination resulted in her pay being dramatically lower than that of her male counterparts. How much lower? Her pay was 15% lower than the lowest paid male counterpart and 29% lower than the highest paid male equivalent.

To make a 47 page long story short, in a split 5:4 decision the court ruled against Lilly Ledbetter, not on the basis that she was not discriminated against, but on the basis that she did not file her suit within 180 days from the date in which Goodyear started discriminating against her. At best, the majority judges did not consider the implications of their ruling. At worst they are intentionally trying to gut employee's ability to sue a discriminating employer. I tend to believe that the latter is the case.

As the four dissenting Justices point out, the court's ruling essentially means that to get away with pay discrimination, all an employer has to do is successfully HIDE from the employee the fact that he or she is being discriminated against for a sufficiently long time. The clock starts ticking from the time of the violation, not from the time that violation is discovered... hmmm...

Justice Ginsburg (page 30):

"...Comparative pay information, moreover, is often hidden from employee's view. Employers may keep under wraps the pay differentials maintained among supervisors, no less the reasons for those differentials..."

If an employee is unjustly paid less than his co-workers, is he supposed to find out about it within 180 days from when this violation started? How exactly? Take me for example: I have been with my company for two years, and I have no idea what my peers are making.

This is bad law. The majority Justices are the usual suspects: Alito, Roberts, Kennedy, Scalia and Thomas. Although I consider myself an economic conservative, these guys make me look like a complete communist. Apparently, if it were up to them (and it frequently is) they would hand the country over to big business, and damn the little guy. Efforts are already on their way to get Congress to overturn this horrible decision. That would be exactly the right thing to do.


plonkee said...

This is serious. And insane. My feeling is that they should change the law - presumably thats what Congress could do, I'm not up on US government/legal systems.

It must feel like being discriminated against twice.

Flights to Italy said...

I agree your view point, Plonkee. they should change their law.