Court to women: Equal pay, no way

Question: What court ruled recently that paying women less is OK as long as you don’t get caught for 180 days?

Answer: The Supreme Court of the United States.

Question: What court laid out a blueprint showing companies that discriminate how they can get away with it?

Answer: The Supreme Court of the United States.

The Supreme Court limited the ability of workers to sue for pay discrimination in a May 29 ruling against a Goodyear employee who earned $6,500 less than her male counterparts but who, the court said, waited too long to complain.

The 5-4 decision cited a clause in a federal civil rights law that sets a 180-day deadline for workers to claim they are victims of pay discrimination because of their race, sex, religion or national origin.

The decision ended a long-running lawsuit by a woman who had suffered blatant wage discrimination at Goodyear.

Not even attempting to cover his intent to defend discrimination, Justice Samuel Alito wrote: “Without a deadline, employers would find it difficult to defend against claims arising from employment decisions that are long past.”

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, writing in dissent for the court’s liberal members, urged Congress to amend the law to correct the court’s “parsimonious reading” of it.

Lily Ledbetter, a longtime supervisor at Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co.’s plant in Gadsden, Ala., sued for sex discrimination because her pay was significantly lower than that of men who did similar jobs. After 19 years with Goodyear, Ledbetter was making $45,000 a year, $6,500 less than the lowest paid male supervisor.

A jury sided with Ledbetter but an appeals court overturned the verdict, saying she had “waited too long to begin her lawsuit.”

The Supreme Court agreed that workers who “wait too long” are just plain out of luck. Alito said, “The passage of time may seriously diminish the ability of the parties and the factfinder to reconstruct what actually happened.”

“They basically said, ‘It’s OK, boys. Just keep it quiet for 180 days and you’re home free,’” said Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women.

Ledbetter said she couldn’t possibly sue before the 180th day on her job because she knew that new employees are not supposed to “rock the boat” and that, as a new worker, she had no reason to believe that such pay diversity even existed.

Ginsburg wrote: “In our view, this court does not comprehend, or is indifferent to, the insidious way in which women can be victims of pay discrimination.” She noted that Ledbetter’s pay started out comparable to what men were making but slipped over time.

Karen Elliott, head teller at a branch of a Chase Bank branch in Chicago, told the World, “The ruling shows the court majority has no knowledge about what is going on in the real world. It shows they don’t understand at all what women face. If the company can keep the discrimination hidden for 181 days, they can then continue to discriminate and suffer no consequences.”

Gandy said NOW is acting on several fronts against the Supreme Court ruling.

“First,” she said, “we are organizing all across the country to demand that Congress pass and the president sign legislation that will repair the damage to our hard-fought pay discrimination laws.

“Second, we are calling the press all over this country and urging them to cover this story in a serious way. Not enough people understand the incredible damage that has been done here by the Supreme Court. The word has to get out and when it does people will act to reverse this.”

Spokespeople for Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) indicated almost immediately after the ruling that the two lawmakers will draft legislation that, in effect, reverses the court decision. Many other legislators are expected to join the fight.

“We must demand that this legislation be so clear that no [high court] justice can misunderstand or pretend to misunderstand,” Gandy said. She said that the issue will be a major topic at NOW’s July 13-15 convention in Detroit.

jwojcik @pww.org