By Ted Olsen
As we have reported in the past, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 (42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(e)(3)(A) was enacted in direct response to the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., Inc., 550 U.S. 618 (2007). In that case, the Supreme Court held that poor job evaluations, given to a Title VII claimant long before the 300-day period preceding the filing of her EEOC charge, were not actionable, due to the statute of limitations, despite the fact the claimant experienced lost pay and benefits within the 300-day period, due to the evaluations. Despite prior case law, Congress and the President interpreted the Ledbetter decision as wrongly enforcing the 300-day limitations period against pay discrimination claims.
When the Act was passed, we notified clients that, due to its broad language, it might be interpreted as effectively eliminating the Title VII statute of limitations defense as to any claim challenging an adverse employment action that resulted in any financial loss during the 300-day period. Two recent court decisions, however, have interpreted the Act as not having this far-reaching effect. The most recent one, Noel v. Boeing Co., Case No. 08-3877 (3d Cir. Oct. 1, 2010), involved a failure to promote claim.
In Noel, the plaintiff, a black Haitian national, complained that in 2003, two white employees in his job classification were given promotions which he was denied, resulting in his loss of income and benefits. Noel did not file an EEOC charge until March 2005, long after the 300-day period following his non-promotion. He claimed that the Ledbetter Act made his non-promotion claims timely, as his non-selection was an alleged discriminatory practice, and it resulted in the loss of wages, benefits, or other compensation.
The Third Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the employer, holding that the Act was intended to address compensation discrimination, not other alleged discriminatory actions resulting in lost compensation. The Court further held that compensation discrimination requires a claim of unequal compensation for equal work. Because Noel had never made such an unequal pay claim, he had not alleged a claim protected by the Ledbetter Act.
Interestingly, the only other federal court of appeals to face this question, Shuler v. PricewaterhouseCoopers, LLP, 595 F.3d 370, 375 (D.C. Cir. 2010), has likewise ruled that the Ledbetter Act's reference to "other [discriminatory] practice[s]" was not intended to relate to an allegedly discriminatory promotion decision.
A Kansas district court also recently held that charges filed more than 300 days after the layoffs of two employees were untimely, despite the Ledbetter Act and the ongoing adverse pay consequences of the layoffs. Almond v. Unified School District #501, Case No. 07-4064-JAR (D. Kan. Oct. 28, 2010).
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©2010 Sherman & Howard L.L.C. November 3, 2010