Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. - 05-1074 (2007)
OCTOBER TERM, 2006
LEDBETTER V. GOODYEAR TIRE & RUBBER CO.
SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
LEDBETTER v. GOODYEAR TIRE & RUBBER CO., INC.
certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the eleventh circuit
No. 05–1074. Argued November 27, 2006—Decided May 29, 2007
During most of the time that petitioner Ledbetter was employed by respondent Goodyear, salaried employees at the plant where she worked were given or denied raises based on performance evaluations. Ledbetter submitted a questionnaire to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in March 1998 and a formal EEOC charge in July 1998. After her November 1998 retirement, she filed suit, asserting, among other things, a sex discrimination claim under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The District Court allowed her Title VII pay discrimination claim to proceed to trial. There, Ledbetter alleged that several supervisors had in the past given her poor evaluations because of her sex; that as a result, her pay had not increased as much as it would have if she had been evaluated fairly; that those past pay decisions affected the amount of her pay throughout her employment; and that by the end of her employment, she was earning significantly less than her male colleagues. Goodyear maintained that the evaluations had been nondiscriminatory, but the jury found for Ledbetter, awarding backpay and damages. On appeal, Goodyear contended that the pay discrimination claim was time barred with regard to all pay decisions made before September 26, 1997—180 days before Ledbetter filed her EEOC questionnaire—and that no discriminatory act relating to her pay occurred after that date. The Eleventh Circuit reversed, holding that a Title VII pay discrimination claim cannot be based on allegedly discriminatory events that occurred before the last pay decision that affected the employee’s pay during the EEOC charging period, and concluding that there was insufficient evidence to prove that Goodyear had acted with discriminatory intent in making the only two pay decisions during that period, denials of raises in 1997 and 1998.
Held: Because the later effects of past discrimination do not restart the clock for filing an EEOC charge, Ledbetter’s claim is untimely. Pp. 4–24.
(a) An individual wishing to bring a Title VII lawsuit must first file an EEOC charge within, as relevant here, 180 days “after the alleged unlawful employment practice occurred.” 42 U. S. C. §2000e–2(a)(1). In addressing the issue of an EEOC charge’s timeliness, this Court has stressed the need to identify with care the specific employment practice at issue. Ledbetter’s arguments—that the paychecks that she received during the charging period and the 1998 raise denial each violated Title VII and triggered a new EEOC charging period—fail because they would require the Court in effect to jettison the defining element of the disparate-treatment claim on which her Title VII recovery was based, discriminatory intent. United Air Lines, Inc. v. Evans, 431 U. S. 553, Delaware State College v. Ricks, 449 U. S. 250, Lorance v. AT&T Technologies, Inc., 490 U. S. 900, and National Railroad Passenger Corporation v. Morgan, 536 U. S. 101, clearly instruct that the EEOC charging period is triggered when a discrete unlawful practice takes place. A new violation does not occur, and a new charging period does not commence, upon the occurrence of subsequent nondiscriminatory acts that entail adverse effects resulting from the past discrimination. But if an employer engages in a series of separately actionable intentionally discriminatory acts, then a fresh violation takes place when each act is committed. Ledbetter makes no claim that intentionally discriminatory conduct occurred during the charging period or that discriminatory decisions occurring before that period were not communicated to her. She argues simply that Goodyear’s nondiscriminatory conduct during the charging period gave present effect to discriminatory conduct outside of that period. But current effects alone cannot breathe life into prior, uncharged discrimination. Ledbetter should have filed an EEOC charge within 180 days after each allegedly discriminatory employment decision was made and communicated to her. Her attempt to shift forward the intent associated with prior discriminatory acts to the 1998 pay decision is unsound, for it would shift intent away from the act that consummated the discriminatory employment practice to a later act not performed with bias or discriminatory motive, imposing liability in the absence of the requisite intent. Her argument would also distort Title VII’s “integrated, multistep enforcement procedure.” Occidental Life Ins. Co. of Cal. v. EEOC, 432 U. S. 355, 359. The short EEOC filing deadline reflects Congress’ strong preference for the prompt resolution of employment discrimination allegations through voluntary conciliation and cooperation. Id., at 367–368. Nothing in Title VII supports treating the intent element of Ledbetter’s disparate-treatment claim any differently from the employment practice element of the claim. Pp. 4–13.
(b) Bazemore v. Friday, 478 U. S. 385 (per curiam), which concerned a disparate-treatment pay claim, is entirely consistent with Evans, Ricks, Lorance, and Morgan. Bazemore’s rule is that an employer violates Title VII and triggers a new EEOC charging period whenever the employer issues paychecks using a discriminatory pay structure. It is not, as Ledbetter contends, a “paycheck accrual rule” under which each paycheck, even if not accompanied by discriminatory intent, triggers a new EEOC charging period during which the complainant may properly challenge any prior discriminatory conduct that impacted that paycheck’s amount, no matter how long ago the discrimination occurred. Because Ledbetter has not adduced evidence that Goodyear initially adopted its performance-based pay system in order to discriminate based on sex or that it later applied this system to her within the charging period with discriminatory animus, Bazemore is of no help to her. Pp. 13–21.
(c) Ledbetter’s “paycheck accrual rule” is also not supported by either analogies to the statutory regimes of the Equal Pay Act of 1963, the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, or the National Labor Relations Act, or policy arguments for giving special treatment to pay claims. Pp. 21–24.
421 F. 3d 1169, affirmed.
Alito, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Roberts, C. J., and Scalia, Kennedy, and Thomas, JJ., joined. Ginsburg, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Stevens, Souter, and Breyer, JJ., joined.