Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. (05-1074) and order list

May 31, 2007 Supreme Court Update

Greetings, Court Fans!

We have only one decision to report this holiday week: Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. (05-1074). The case, which divided the Court 5-4, addresses when the clock starts running on a Title VII employment discrimination claim based on disparate pay. Title VII requires an employee to file a charge with the EEOC before pursuing her claim in court, generally within 180 days of the alleged discriminatory act. Lilly Ledbetter claimed that, over her nearly two decades working at Goodyear, several supervisors gave her poor evaluations because of her sex and that, as a result, she was paid less then her male colleagues – a disparity that continued throughout her career was magnified by Goodyear's practice of awarding percentage-based raises. Ledbetter filed her EEOC charge more than 180 days after her discriminatory evaluations and initial pay decisions, but she claimed that her EEOC charge was timely because: (1) each paycheck was a separate act of discrimination; and (2) Goodyear's 1998 decision denying her a raise (which was in the 180-day charging period) "carried forward intentional discriminatory disparities from prior years." The district court allowed Ledbetter's case to go to trial, where she prevailed, but the Eleventh Circuit reversed, finding that her EEOC charge was untimely.

The Court affirmed in an opinion by Justice Alito, joined by the Chief and Justices Scalia, Kennedy and Thomas. For them, the analysis was simple: Intent is a required element of any disparate treatment claim. Thus, the clock starts running on a disparate treatment claim when the employer takes an adverse employment action with discriminatory intent – here, Goodyear's earlier pay decisions based on discriminatory evaluations, all of which fell outside the charging period. An employee cannot shift forward the intent from an earlier act (as to which the employee failed to file a charge) to a later act not performed with any discriminatory motive. Any other holding would permit an employee subjected to a discriminatory pay decision twenty years ago to challenge that decision at any time, subverting Congress's determination to require employees to file charges within 180 days, which "reflects Congress' strong preference for the prompt resolution of employment discrimination allegations through voluntary conciliation and cooperation." Bazemore v. Friday, 478 U.S. 385 (1986), which held that certain race-based pay disparity claims could accrue paycheck-by-paycheck, was distinguishable, because there the plaintiffs' claims were based on a discriminatory pay structure – the employer in that case actually separated its white and black employees into separate pay branches. Where the structure itself is discriminatory, every paycheck provided under that structure constitutes a new discriminatory act. Here, however, Goodyear's pay structure was facially neutral and applied neutrally to Ledbetter, at least within the charging period.

The dissenters, led by Justice Ginsburg, would treat discriminatory pay decisions differently from other, more discrete, adverse employment actions such as termination or failure to promote because pay decisions often are difficult for employees to see (since salaries for colleagues generally are not made public) and, taken one by one, may seem too small to challenge or too ambiguous to prove. "The Court would thus force plaintiffs, in many cases, to sue too soon to prevail, while cutting them off as time barred once the pay differential is large enough to enable them to mount a winnable case."

The Court also granted cert in a number of cases, taking a small step toward filling its October 2007 calendar:

Hall Street Assocs. v. Mattel, Inc. (06-989) will address a critical question for many businesses considering adopting alternative dispute resolution methods: whether the parties to an arbitration agreement can contract for "more expansive judicial review of an arbitration award than the narrow standard of review otherwise provided for in the [Federal Arbitration Act] FAA."

John R. Sand & Gravel Co. v. United States (06-1164) asks whether the statute of limitations in the Tucker Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2501 – which provides that "[e]very claim of which the United States Court of Federal Claims has jurisdiction shall be barred unless the petition thereon is filed within six years after such claim first accrues" – limits the subject matter jurisdiction of the Court of Federal Claims.

Railroad lawyers – this one's for you: CSX Transportation v. GA State Bd. of Equalization (06-1287) will determine "[w]hether, under the federal statute prohibiting state tax discrimination against railroads, 49 U.S.C. § 11501(b)(1), a federal district court determining the ‘true market value' of railroad property must accept the valuation method chosen by the State."

Ali v. Federal Bureau of Prisons (06-9130) will address a 6-4 circuit split over whether the exception to the Federal Tort Claim Act's waiver of sovereign immunity, which provides that immunity is not waived with respect to "the detention of any goods, merchandise, or other property by any officer of customs or excise or any other law enforcement officer," covers a claim against a prison official for losing an inmate's belongings.

Finally, the Court invited the SG to weigh in on United States, ex rel. Bly Magee v. Premo (06-1269), a case that would further explore the scope of the "public disclosure bar" of the False Claims Act, which prohibits the filing of a qui tam action based on the public disclosure of allegations or transactions in, among other things, a "government accounting audit report, hearing or investigation."

That's all for this week, but June should be one busy month, with nearly an opinion a day left to be released. We'll do our best to keep you up to date and informed.

Kim & Ken

From the Appellate Practice Group at Wiggin and Dana
For more information, contact Kim Rinehart, Ken Heath, Aaron Bayer, or Jeff Babbin at 203-498-4400