Post Editorial for Changing Lawsuit Deadline Based on Factual Misunderstanding

by Hans Bader on April 23, 2008 · 1,219 comments

The Washington Post today editorialized in favor of an unnecessary bill, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which would extend the deadline for bringing pay discrimination claims under one law (Title VII of the Civil Rights Act) even though there’s another law that already has a much more generous deadline for bringing pay discrimination claims (the Equal Pay Act).  The Post seems completely unaware of the existence of another law, the Equal Pay Act, that already has a generous deadline (3 years) for bringing pay discrimination claims

In Ledbetter v. Goodyear (2007), the Supreme Court enforced the explicit 180-day deadline for bringing discrimination claims under Title VII, ruling that Lilly Ledbetter’s pay discrimination suit under Title VII was untimely because she brought it long after 180 days had elapsed.   But the court specifically noted in a footnote that the plaintiff had (for unknown reasons) dropped her claim under the Equal Pay Act — which has a longer deadline (3 years) for suing.  Liberal court reporters deliberately ignored the footnote and the very existence of the Equal Pay Act in order to cynically create the false impression that the Supreme Court’s enforcing the Title VII deadline as written would leave women without any redress for sex-based pay discrimination after 180 days had passed. 

It makes sense that the two laws have different deadlines, because one deals with pay discrimination, which often takes a long time to learn about (your co-workers’ pay isn’t usually public knowledge, so it’s hard to know whether your male colleagues are being paid more than you are for the same job), while the other deals primarily with things like hiring and firing, which you learn about immediately.

The Post does complain about one bug in the bill, which it seeks to have amended out of the bill before it is passed: the fact that it would allow “someone other than the employee“ to sue the employer under the expanded deadline.  But that flaw isn’t a bug, it’s an intended feature of the bill, indeed, one of the cynical reasons the bill was introduced.

Many laws with long deadlines for suing, like 42 U.S.C. 1981 (which permits suits over race discrimination for up to four years after it occurred, regardless of whether the discrimination involves pay, hiring, or firing), only permit the affected employee — not bureaucrats like the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) — to sue over alleged discrimination, preventing one borderline stale claim of discrimination by a single former employee from being used by the EEOC to create a vast class action or demand for wide-ranging and intrusive injunctive relief against an employer. 

By contrast, Title VII already gives the EEOC broad leeway to butt in and sue in federal court based on allegations that an employer discriminated against an employee, even if the employee herself has agreed to forego a lawsuit in favor of other means, like arbitration.  The Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act would go far beyond even that by allowing any “affected” person, not just the employee or the EEOC, the ability to sue under Title VII.

If the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act passes, the EEOC’s ability to bring such suits under Title VII, and demand wide-ranging injunctive “relief” (or extract controversial settlements containing gender-based or race-based preferences, or workplace bans on “Ebonics” jokes) will be dramatically expanded.  And a gaggle of additional “affected” parties will be able to bring lawsuits of their own.

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