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OBSOLETE ARTICLE — Supreme Court requires that “acts” of discrimination, not merely “effects”, occur within EEOC filing deadline

UPDATE —– 1-29-2009 —– OBSOLETE- This article was rendered obsolete by the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, which reversed the Supreme Court case discussed in the below article

I have written an article about the Lilly Ledbetter Act here.


New Justices Alito and Roberts provide the majority votes to apply a narrow interpretation to the EEOC filing deadline.

Supreme Court clarifies that “acts of discrimination” – not merely “effects of discrimination” – must occur within the very short EEOC filing deadline period.

The case is Ledbetter v. Goodyear, decided by the US Supreme Court on May 29, 2007.

  • Plaintiff was a female employee of about 19 years seniority.
  • She made less than the lowest paid male.
  • Her low salary was due to gender discrimination in years past, with regard to how raises were decided.
  • And so her current salary is low due to old acts of discrimination.
  • She filed EEOC charges some years after the last act of gender discrimination in pay raises.
  • She won her case at trial.
  • But on appeal, a lower appellate court reversed the victory, saying that she did not file her EEOC charges within the short deadline of 180 days (300 days in Missouri).
  • She appealed to the Supreme Court.
  • The Supreme Court sided with the lower appellate court – the “act” of discrimination must be within the deadline period, even if the “effects” of discrimination linger on into the present.
  • Most significantly, in my opinion: The Supreme Court said that the deadline period did not restart with each payday, even though plaintiff’s current low pay is due to the lingering effects of past discrimination.

It’s hard to argue with the Supreme Court’s logic here. The law is written to prevent acts of discrimination and provides a short deadline to file EEOC charges.

However, it’s often the case that we don’t know whether we’ve been the victims of illegal discrimination until much later, when we learn some previously hidden fact. For example, maybe an employer makes everyone keep their pay secret – how would women know that men are paid more?

So this decision gives employers an even greater incentive to keep everything secret. Every piece of info has more value now, because the more the info is kept secret, then the easier it is for the employer to win discrimination cases.

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