Letter to the Editor: Court Lenient on Time in Pay Discrimination

A recent story in The Washington Times grossly oversimplified a Supreme Court decision and overstated the decision’s effect on equal-pay claims (“Romney’s wooing of female vote hits early snag,” Web, Wednesday).

The story claimed that the 2007 Ledbetter v. Goodyear decision required women alleging pay discrimination to sue within “180 days from the first instance of discrimination.” In reality, the Supreme Court expressly left the door open in Footnote 10 of its decision to women suing even after 180 days if they did not discover the discrimination until later.

In earlier rulings, the court allowed victims of discrimination to invoke the doctrine of “equitable tolling,” under which the 180-day deadline can be extended for employees deceived by their employer’s misrepresentations. The court also noted that the plaintiff in the case, Lilly Ledbetter, might have won her case had she relied on a different law banning pay discrimination, the Equal Pay Act, which does not have a short 180-day deadline.

But Ms. Ledbetter’s lawyers abandoned any reliance on that law before the Supreme Court, frittering away her chance of winning.

Her lawsuit failed despite all of these exceptions to the deadline because she deliberately had waited years before suing, allowing her claim to grow stale. Ms. Ledbetter testified in her deposition that she knew by 1992 of the pay disparity over which she later sued.