U.S. Supreme Court Clarifies Title VII Statute of Limitations

Lilly Ledbetter claimed Goodyear discriminated against her based on her sex by setting her pay lower than male counterparts. As a result, her pay continued to be lower over time. Years after the allegedly discriminatory pay decisions, she brought a claim of sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII requires plaintiffs to file administrative charges within 180 days of the discriminatory decision. But Ledbetter argued that each paycheck was a new discriminatory decision to pay her, based on the initial discriminatory setting of her pay.

The Supreme Court held (5-4) that the EEOC charge was untimely. Reviewing its prior decisions on the issue, the Court held: "The EEOC charging period is triggered when a discrete unlawful practice takes place. A new violation does not occur, and a new charging period does not commence, upon the occurrence of subsequent nondiscriminatory acts that entail adverse effects resulting from the past discrimination. But of course, if an employer engages in a series of acts each of which is intentionally discriminatory, then a fresh violation takes place when each act is committed."

Thus, the "continuing violation" doctrine has no applicability to pay cases where the initial decision resulted in lower pay, but there were no later, discriminatory decisions perpetuating the initial wrong.

The case is Ledbetter v. Goodyear.