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Supreme Court Decision in Ledbetter Severely Weakens Remedies for Workplace Discrimination

May 29, 2007

For Immediate Release: May 29, 2007 Contact: Jenice Robinson or Ranit Schmelzer, 202-588-5180


(Washington, D.C.) The U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. severely weakens remedies for employees who have faced wage discrimination and represents a flawed interpretation of our nation's civil rights laws, the National Women's Law Center (NWLC) said today.

"The Court's decision is a setback for women and a setback for civil rights," said Marcia Greenberger, Co-President of NWLC.

The Court ruled that employees cannot legally challenge ongoing pay discrimination if the employer's original discriminatory decision on the pay occurred outside of a statutory limitations period -- even if the employee continues to receive paychecks that have been discriminatorily reduced.

"The ruling essentially says tough luck to employees who don't immediately challenge their employer's discriminatory acts, even if the discrimination continues to the present time," Greenberger said. "Not only does the ruling ignore the reality of pay discrimination, it also cripples the law's intent to address it, and undermines the incentive for employers to prevent and correct it.

"Victims of pay discrimination who did not initially know of pay disparities or were afraid to file a complaint now will have no effective remedy against discrimination, even when it continues" Greenberger added.

The case began when Lilly Ledbetter sued her employer, Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co., for wage discrimination based on gender. At the lower court level, Ledbetter won a jury verdict on her claim, but the Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit reversed the verdict, holding that her case was filed too late -- even though Ledbetter continued to receive discriminatory pay -- because the company's original decision on her pay had been made years earlier. Today, the Supreme Court upheld that decision.

To this day, women earn less than men in virtually every occupation and job category, at every age and stage in their employment, and for every hour worked. On average, women earn only about 77 cents for every dollar earned by men. In addition, the wage gap expands over the course of a woman's working life, with serious economic consequences. Pay discrimination is responsible for a significant portion of this gap.

"This 5-4 decision authored by Justice Alito shows just how important one vote can be," Greenberger said. "By a one-vote margin, this Court has put at risk women's ability to combat the wage discrimination to which they are far too frequently subject."