Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination in employment decisions, including decisions to underpay women.  It also specifies a 180-day statute of limitations. 

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court applied the limitations (or "charging") period to restrict the "back pay" that victims of unlawful employment bias may recover.  Title VI, the 5-4 Court held, allows recovery of back pay only to the extent the employee suffers from actionable discrimination that occurs during the charging period.  The Court "reject[ed] the suggestion that an employment practice committed with no improper purpose and no discriminatory intent is rendered unlawful nonetheless because it gives some effect to an intentional discriminatory act that occurred outside the [180-day] charging period."  Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., Inc., No. 05-1074 (U.S. May 29, 2007).

The ruling bars liability for low pay that a plaintiff receives during the charging period but that results from earlier acts of discrimination.  If an employer — for discriminatory reasons — starts underpaying an employee before the charging period and — for non-discriminatory reasons — continues underpaying her during the charging period, the plaintiff may not recover for the present consequences of the old bias.

Barry Barnett

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