Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., 550 U.S. 618 (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.
OPINION OF THE COURT
LEDBETTER V. GOODYEAR TIRE & RUBBER CO.
550 U. S. ____ (2007)
SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
LILLY M. LEDBETTER, PETITIONER v. THE GOOD- YEAR TIRE & RUBBER COMPANY, INC. on writ of certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the eleventh circuit [May 29, 2007] Justice Alito delivered the opinion of the Court. This case calls upon us to apply established precedent in a slightly different context. We have previously held that the time for filing a charge of employment discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) begins when the discriminatory act occurs. We have explained that this rule applies to any “[d]iscrete ac[t]” of discrimination, including discrimination in “termination, failure to promote, denial of transfer, [and] refusal to hire.” National Railroad Passenger Corporation v. Morgan, 536 U. S. 101, 114 (2002). Because a pay-setting decision is a “discrete act,” it follows that the period for filing an EEOC charge begins when the act occurs. Petitioner, having abandoned her claim under the Equal Pay Act, asks us to deviate from our prior decisions in order to permit her to assert her claim under Title VII. Petitioner also contends that discrimination in pay is different from other types of employment discrimination and thus should be governed by a different rule. But because a pay-setting decision is a discrete act that occurs at a particular point in time, these arguments must be rejected. We therefore affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals. I Petitioner Lilly Ledbetter (Ledbetter) worked for respondent Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company (Goodyear) at its Gadsden, Alabama, plant from 1979 until 1998. During much of this time, salaried employees at the plant were given or denied raises based on their supervisors’ evaluation of their performance. In March 1998, Ledbetter submitted a questionnaire to the EEOC alleging certain acts of sex discrimination, and in July of that year she filed a formal EEOC charge. After taking early retirement in November 1998, Ledbetter commenced this action, in which she asserted, among other claims, a Title VII pay discrimination claim and a claim under the Equal Pay Act of 1963 (EPA), 29 U. S. C. §206(d). The District Court granted summary judgment in favor of Goodyear on several of Ledbetter’s claims, including her Equal Pay Act claim, but allowed others, including her Title VII pay discrimination claim, to proceed to trial. In support of this latter claim, Ledbetter introduced evidence that during the course of her employment several supervisors had given her poor evaluations because of her sex, that as a result of these evaluations her pay was not increased as much as it would have been if she had been evaluated fairly, and that these past pay decisions continued to affect the amount of her pay throughout her employment. Toward the end of her time with Goodyear, she was being paid significantly less than any of her male colleagues. Goodyear maintained that the evaluations had been nondiscriminatory, but the jury found for Ledbetter and awarded her backpay and damages. On appeal, Goodyear contended that Ledbetter’s pay discrimination claim was time barred with respect to all pay decisions made prior to September 26, 1997—that is, 180 days before the filing of her EEOC questionnaire.[Footnote 1] And Goodyear argued that no discriminatory act relating to Ledbetter’s pay occurred after that date. The Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit reversed, holding that a Title VII pay discrimination claim cannot be based on any pay decision that occurred prior to the last pay decision that affected the employee’s pay during the EEOC charging period. 421 F. 3d 1169, 1182–1183 (2005). The Court of Appeals then concluded that there was insufficient evidence to prove that Goodyear had acted with discriminatory intent in making the only two pay decisions that occurred within that time span, namely, a decision made in 1997 to deny Ledbetter a raise and a similar decision made in 1998. Id., at 1186–1187. Ledbetter filed a petition for a writ of certiorari but did not seek review of the Court of Appeals’ holdings regarding the sufficiency of the evidence in relation to the 1997 and 1998 pay decisions. Rather, she sought review of the following question: “Whether and under what circumstances a plaintiff may bring an action under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 alleging illegal pay discrimination when the disparate pay is received during the statutory limitations period, but is the result of intentionally discriminatory pay decisions that occurred outside the limitations period.” Pet. for Cert. i. In light of disagreement among the Courts of Appeals as to the proper application of the limitations period in Title VII disparate-treatment pay cases, compare 421 F. 3d 1169, with Forsyth v. Federation Employment & Guidance Serv., 409 F. 3d 565 (CA2 2005); Shea v. Rice, 409 F. 3d 448 (CADC 2005), we granted certiorari, 548 U. S. ___ (2006). II Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes it an “unlawful employment practice” to discriminate “against any individual with respect to his compensation … because of such individual’s … sex.” 42 U. S. C. §2000e–2(a)(1). An individual wishing to challenge an employment practice under this provision must first file a charge with the EEOC. §2000e–5(e)(1). Such a charge must be filed within a specified period (either 180 or 300 days, depending on the State) “after the alleged unlawful employment practice occurred,” ibid., and if the employee does not submit a timely EEOC charge, the employee may not challenge that practice in court, §2000e–5(f)(1). In addressing the issue whether an EEOC charge was filed on time, we have stressed the need to identify with care the specific employment practice that is at issue. Morgan, 536 U. S., at 110–111. Ledbetter points to two different employment practices as possible candidates. Primarily, she urges us to focus on the paychecks that were issued to her during the EEOC charging period (the 180-day period preceding the filing of her EEOC questionnaire), each of which, she contends, was a separate act of discrimination. Alternatively, Ledbetter directs us to the 1998 decision denying her a raise, and she argues that this decision was “unlawful because it carried forward intentionally discriminatory disparities from prior years.” Reply Brief for Petitioner 20. Both of these arguments fail because they would require us in effect to jettison the defining element of the legal claim on which her Title VII recovery was based. Ledbetter asserted disparate treatment, the central element of which is discriminatory intent. See Chardon v. Fernandez, 454 U. S. 6, 8 (1981) (per curiam); Teamsters v. United States, 431 U. S. 324, 335, n. 15 (1977); Watson v. Fort Worth Bank & Trust, 487 U. S. 977, 1002 (1998) (Blackmun, J., joined by Brennan, and Marshall, JJ., concurring in part and concurring in judgment) (“[A] disparate-treatment challenge focuses exclusively on the intent of the employer”). However, Ledbetter does not assert that the relevant Goodyear decisionmakers acted with actual discriminatory intent either when they issued her checks during the EEOC charging period or when they denied her a raise in 1998. Rather, she argues that the paychecks were unlawful because they would have been larger if she had been evaluated in a nondiscriminatory manner prior to the EEOC charging period. Brief for Petitioner 22. Similarly, she maintains that the 1998 decision was unlawful because it “carried forward” the effects of prior, uncharged discrimination decisions. Reply Brief for Petitioner 20. In essence, she suggests that it is sufficient that discriminatory acts that occurred prior to the charging period had continuing effects during that period. Brief for Petitioner 13 (“[E]ach paycheck that offers a woman less pay than a similarly situated man because of her sex is a separate violation of Title VII with its own limitations period, regardless of whether the paycheck simply implements a prior discriminatory decision made outside the limitations period”); see also Reply Brief for Petitioner 20. This argument is squarely foreclosed by our precedents. In United Air Lines, Inc. v. Evans, 431 U. S. 553 (1977), we rejected an argument that is basically the same as Ledbetter’s. Evans was forced to resign because the airline refused to employ married flight attendants, but she did not file an EEOC charge regarding her termination. Some years later, the airline rehired her but treated her as a new employee for seniority purposes. Id., at 554–555. Evans then sued, arguing that, while any suit based on the original discrimination was time barred, the airline’s refusal to give her credit for her prior service gave “present effect to [its] past illegal act and thereby perpetuate[d] the consequences of forbidden discrimination.” Id., at 557. We agreed with Evans that the airline’s “seniority system [did] indeed have a continuing impact on her pay and fringe benefits,” id., at 558, but we noted that “the critical question [was] whether any present violation exist[ed].” Ibid. (emphasis in original). We concluded that the continuing effects of the precharging period discrimination did not make out a present violation. As Justice Stevens wrote for the Court: “United was entitled to treat [Evans’ termination] as lawful after respondent failed to file a charge of discrimination within the 90 days then allowed by §706(d). A discriminatory act which is not made the basis for a timely charge … is merely an unfortunate event in history which has no present legal consequences.” Ibid. It would be difficult to speak to the point more directly. Equally instructive is Delaware State College v. Ricks, 449 U. S. 250 (1980), which concerned a college librarian, Ricks, who alleged that he had been discharged because of race. In March 1974, Ricks was denied tenure, but he was given a final, nonrenewable one-year contract that expired on June 30, 1975. Id., at 252–253. Ricks delayed filing a charge with the EEOC until April 1975, id., at 254, but he argued that the EEOC charging period ran from the date of his actual termination rather than from the date when tenure was denied. In rejecting this argument, we recognized that “one of the effects of the denial of tenure,” namely, his ultimate termination, “did not occur until later.” Id., at 258 (emphasis in original). But because Ricks failed to identify any specific discriminatory act “that continued until, or occurred at the time of, the actual termination of his employment,” id., at 257, we held that the EEOC charging period ran from “the time the tenure decision was made and communicated to Ricks,” id., at 258. This same approach dictated the outcome in Lorance v. AT&T Technologies, Inc., 490 U. S. 900 (1989), which grew out of a change in the way in which seniority was calculated under a collective-bargaining agreement. Before 1979, all employees at the plant in question accrued seniority based simply on years of employment at the plant. In 1979, a new agreement made seniority for workers in the more highly paid (and traditionally male) position of “tester” depend on time spent in that position alone and not in other positions in the plant. Several years later, when female testers were laid off due to low seniority as calculated under the new provision, they filed an EEOC charge alleging that the 1979 scheme had been adopted with discriminatory intent, namely, to protect incumbent male testers when women with substantial plant seniority began to move into the traditionally male tester positions. Id., at 902–903. We held that the plaintiffs’ EEOC charge was not timely because it was not filed within the specified period after the adoption in 1979 of the new seniority rule. We noted that the plaintiffs had not alleged that the new seniority rule treated men and women differently or that the rule had been applied in a discriminatory manner. Rather, their complaint was that the rule was adopted originally with discriminatory intent. Id., at 905. And as in Evans and Ricks, we held that the EEOC charging period ran from the time when the discrete act of alleged intentional discrimination occurred, not from the date when the effects of this practice were felt. 490 U. S., at 907–908. We stated: “Because the claimed invalidity of the facially nondiscriminatory and neutrally applied tester seniority system is wholly dependent on the alleged illegality of signing the underlying agreement, it is the date of that signing which governs the limitations period.” Id., at 911.[Footnote 2] Our most recent decision in this area confirms this understanding. In Morgan, we explained that the statutory term “employment practice” generally refers to “a discrete act or single ‘occurrence’ ” that takes place at a particular point in time. 536 U. S., at 110–111. We pointed to “termination, failure to promote, denial of transfer, [and] refusal to hire” as examples of such “discrete” acts, and we held that a Title VII plaintiff “can only file a charge to cover discrete acts that ‘occurred’ within the appropriate time period.” Id., at 114. The instruction provided by Evans, Ricks, Lorance, and Morgan is clear. 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 of course, if an employer engages in a series of acts each of which is intentionally discriminatory, then a fresh violation takes place when each act is committed. See Morgan, supra, at 113. Ledbetter’s arguments here—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—cannot be reconciled with Evans, Ricks, Lorance, and Morgan. Ledbetter, as noted, makes no claim that intentionally discriminatory conduct occurred during the charging period or that discriminatory decisions that occurred prior to that period were not communicated to her. Instead, she argues simply that Goodyear’s conduct during the charging period gave present effect to discriminatory conduct outside of that period. Brief for Petitioner 13. But current effects alone cannot breathe life into prior, uncharged discrimination; as we held in Evans, such effects in themselves have “no present legal consequences.” 431 U. S., at 558. Ledbetter should have filed an EEOC charge within 180 days after each allegedly discriminatory pay decision was made and communicated to her. She did not do so, and the paychecks that were issued to her during the 180 days prior to the filing of her EEOC charge do not provide a basis for overcoming that prior failure. In an effort to circumvent the need to prove discriminatory intent during the charging period, Ledbetter relies on the intent associated with other decisions made by other persons at other times. Reply Brief for Petitioner 6 (“Intentional discrimination … occurs when … differential treatment takes place, even if the intent to engage in that conduct for a discriminatory purpose was made previously”). Ledbetter’s attempt to take the intent associated with the prior pay decisions and shift it to the 1998 pay decision is unsound. It would shift intent from one act (the act that consummates the discriminatory employment practice) to a later act that was not performed with bias or discriminatory motive. The effect of this shift would be to impose liability in the absence of the requisite intent. Our cases recognize this point. In Evans, for example, we did not take the airline’s discriminatory intent in 1968, when it discharged the plaintiff because of her sex, and attach that intent to its later act of neutrally applying its seniority rules. Similarly, in Ricks, we did not take the discriminatory intent that the college allegedly possessed when it denied Ricks tenure and attach that intent to its subsequent act of terminating his employment when his nonrenewable contract ran out. On the contrary, we held that “the only alleged discrimination occurred—and the filing limitations periods therefore commenced—at the time the tenure decision was made and communicated to Ricks.” 449 U. S., at 258. Not only would Ledbetter’s argument effectively eliminate the defining element of her disparate-treatment claim, but it would distort Title VII’s “integrated, multistep enforcement procedure.” Occidental Life Ins. Co. of Cal. v. EEOC, 432 U. S. 355, 359 (1977). We have previously noted the legislative compromises that preceded the enactment of Title VII, Mohasco Corp. v. Silver, 447 U. S. 807, 819–821 (1980); EEOC v. Commercial Office Products Co., 486 U. S. 107, 126 (1988) (Stevens, J., joined by Rehnquist, C. J., and Scalia, J., dissenting). Respectful of the legislative process that crafted this scheme, we must “give effect to the statute as enacted,” Mohasco, supra, at 819, and we have repeatedly rejected suggestions that we extend or truncate Congress’ deadlines. See, e.g., Electrical Workers v. Robbins & Myers, Inc., 429 U. S. 229, 236–240 (1976) (union grievance procedures do not toll EEOC filing deadline); Alexander v. Gardner-Denver Co., 415 U. S. 36, 47–49 (1974) (arbitral decisions do not foreclose access to court following a timely filed EEOC complaint). Statutes of limitations serve a policy of repose. American Pipe & Constr. Co. v. Utah, 414 U. S. 538, 554–555 (1974). They “represent a pervasive legislative judgment that it is unjust to fail to put the adversary on notice to defend within a specified period of time and that ‘the right to be free of stale claims in time comes to prevail over the right to prosecute them.’ ” United States v. Kubrick, 444 U. S. 111, 117 (1979) (quoting Railroad Telegraphers v. Railway Express Agency, Inc., 321 U. S. 342, 349 (1944)). The EEOC filing deadline “protect[s] employers from the burden of defending claims arising from employment decisions that are long past.” Ricks, supra, at 256–257. Certainly, the 180-day EEOC charging deadline, 42 U. S. C. §2000e–5(e)(1), is short by any measure, but “[b]y choosing what are obviously quite short deadlines, Congress clearly intended to encourage the prompt processing of all charges of employment discrimination.” Mohasco, supra, at 825. This short deadline reflects Congress’ strong preference for the prompt resolution of employment discrimination allegations through voluntary conciliation and cooperation. Occidental Life Ins., supra, at 367–368; Alexander, supra, at 44. A disparate-treatment claim comprises two elements: an employment practice, and discriminatory intent. Nothing in Title VII supports treating the intent element of Ledbetter’s claim any differently from the employment practice element.[Footnote 3] If anything, concerns regarding stale claims weigh more heavily with respect to proof of the intent associated with employment practices than with the practices themselves. For example, in a case such as this in which the plaintiff’s claim concerns the denial of raises, the employer’s challenged acts (the decisions not to increase the employee’s pay at the times in question) will almost always be documented and will typically not even be in dispute. By contrast, the employer’s intent is almost always disputed, and evidence relating to intent may fade quickly with time. In most disparate-treatment cases, much if not all of the evidence of intent is circumstantial. Thus, the critical issue in a case involving a long-past performance evaluation will often be whether the evaluation was so far off the mark that a sufficient inference of discriminatory intent can be drawn. See Watson, 487 U. S., at 1004 (Blackmun, J., joined by Brennan and Marshall, JJ., concurring in part and concurring in judgment) (noting that in a disparate-treatment claim, the McDonnell Douglas factors establish discrimination by inference). See also, e.g., Zhuang v. Datacard Corp., 414 F. 3d 849 (CA8 2005) (rejecting inference of discrimination from performance evaluations); Cooper v. Southern Co., 390 F. 3d 695, 732–733 (CA11 2004) (same). This can be a subtle determination, and the passage of time may seriously diminish the ability of the parties and the factfinder to reconstruct what actually happened.[Footnote 4] Ledbetter contends that employers would be protected by the equitable doctrine of laches, but Congress plainly did not think that laches was sufficient in this context. Indeed, Congress took a diametrically different approach, including in Title VII a provision allowing only a few months in most cases to file a charge with the EEOC. 42 U. S. C. §2000e–5(e)(1). Ultimately, “experience teaches that strict adherence to the procedural requirements specified by the legislature is the best guarantee of evenhanded administration of the law.” Mohasco, 447 U. S., at 826. By operation of §§2000e–5(e)(1) and 2000e–5(f)(1), a Title VII “claim is time barred if it is not filed within these time limits.” Morgan, 536 U. S., at 109; Electrical Workers, 429 U. S., at 236. We therefore reject the suggestion that an employment practice committed with no improper purpose and no discriminatory intent is rendered unlawful nonetheless because it gives some effect to an intentional discriminatory act that occurred outside the charging period. Ledbetter’s claim is, for this reason, untimely. III A In advancing her two theories Ledbetter does not seriously contest the logic of Evans, Ricks, Lorance, and Morgan as set out above, but rather argues that our decision in Bazemore v. Friday, 478 U. S. 385 (1986) (per curiam), requires different treatment of her claim because it relates to pay. Ledbetter focuses specifically on our statement that “[e]ach week’s paycheck that delivers less to a black than to a similarly situated white is a wrong actionable under Title VII.” Id., at 395. She argues that in Bazemore we adopted 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 the amount of that paycheck, no matter how long ago the discrimination occurred. On this reading, Bazemore dispensed with the need to prove actual discriminatory intent in pay cases and, without giving any hint that it was doing so, repudiated the very different approach taken previously in Evans and Ricks. Ledbetter’s interpretation is unsound. Bazemore concerned a disparate-treatment pay claim brought against the North Carolina Agricultural Extension Service (Service). 478 U. S., at 389–390. Service employees were originally segregated into “a white branch” and “a ‘Negro branch,’ ” with the latter receiving less pay, but in 1965 the two branches were merged. Id., at 390–391. After Title VII was extended to public employees in 1972, black employees brought suit claiming that pay disparities attributable to the old dual pay scale persisted. Id., at 391. The Court of Appeals rejected this claim, which it interpreted to be that the “ ‘discriminatory difference in salaries should have been affirmatively eliminated.’ ” Id., at 395. This Court reversed in a per curiam opinion, 478 U. S., at 386–388, but all of the Members of the Court joined Justice Brennan’s separate opinion, see id., at 388 (opinion concurring in part). Justice Brennan wrote: “The error of the Court of Appeals with respect to salary disparities created prior to 1972 and perpetuated thereafter is too obvious to warrant extended discussion: that the Extension Service discriminated with respect to salaries prior to the time it was covered by Title VII does not excuse perpetuating that discrimination after the Extension Service became covered by Title VII. To hold otherwise would have the effect of exempting from liability those employers who were historically the greatest offenders of the rights of blacks. A pattern or practice that would have constituted a violation of Title VII, but for the fact that the statute had not yet become effective, became a violation upon Title VII’s effective date, and to the extent an employer continued to engage in that act or practice, it is liable under that statute. While recovery may not be permitted for pre-1972 acts of discrimination, to the extent that this discrimination was perpetuated after 1972, liability may be imposed.” Id., at 395 (emphasis in original). Far from adopting the approach that Ledbetter advances here, this passage made a point that was “too obvious to warrant extended discussion,” ibid.; namely, that when an employer adopts a facially discriminatory pay structure that puts some employees on a lower scale because of race, the employer engages in intentional discrimination whenever it issues a check to one of these disfavored employees. An employer that adopts and intentionally retains such a pay structure can surely be regarded as intending to discriminate on the basis of race as long as the structure is used. Bazemore thus is entirely consistent with our prior precedents, as Justice Brennan’s opinion took care to point out. Noting that Evans turned on whether “ ‘any present violation exist[ed],’ ” Justice Brennan stated that the Bazemore plaintiffs were alleging that the defendants “ha[d] not from the date of the Act forward made all their employment decisions in a wholly nondiscriminatory way,” 478 U. S., at 396–397, n. 6 (emphasis in original; internal quotation marks and brackets omitted)–which is to say that they had engaged in fresh discrimination. Justice Brennan added that the Court’s “holding in no sense g[ave] legal effect to the pre-1972 actions, but, consistent with Evans … focuse[d] on the present salary structure, which is illegal if it is a mere continuation of the pre-1965 discriminatory pay structure.” Id., at 397, n. 6 (emphasis added). The sentence in Justice Brennan’s opinion on which Ledbetter chiefly relies comes directly after the passage quoted above, and makes a similarly obvious point: “Each week’s paycheck that delivers less to a black than to a similarly situated white is a wrong actionable under Title VII, regardless of the fact that this pattern was begun prior to the effective date of Title VII.” Id., at 395.[Footnote 5] In other words, a freestanding violation may always be charged within its own charging period regardless of its connection to other violations. We repeated this same point more recently in Morgan: “The existence of past acts and the employee’s prior knowledge of their occurrence … does not bar employees from filing charges about related discrete acts so long as the acts are independently discriminatory and charges addressing those acts are themselves timely filed.” 536 U. S., at 113.[Footnote 6] Neither of these opinions stands for the proposition that an action not comprising an employment practice and alleged discriminatory intent is separately chargeable, just because it is related to some past act of discrimination. Ledbetter attempts to eliminate the obvious inconsistencies between her interpretation of Bazemore and the Evans/Ricks/Lorance/Morgan line of cases on the ground that none of the latter cases involved pay raises, but the logic of our prior cases is fully applicable to pay cases. To take Evans as an example, the employee there was unlawfully terminated; this caused her to lose seniority; and the loss of seniority affected her wages, among other things. 431 U. S., at 555, n. 5 (“[S]eniority determine[s] a flight attendant’s wages; the duration and timing of vacations; rights to retention in the event of layoffs and rights to re-employment thereafter; and rights to preferential selection of flight assignments”). The relationship between past discrimination and adverse present effects was the same in Evans as it is here. Thus, the argument that Ledbetter urges us to accept here would necessarily have commanded a different outcome in Evans. Bazemore stands for the proposition that an employer violates Title VII and triggers a new EEOC charging period whenever the employer issues paychecks using a discriminatory pay structure. But a new Title VII violation does not occur and a new charging period is not triggered when an employer issues paychecks pursuant to a system that is “facially nondiscriminatory and neutrally applied.” Lorance, 490 U. S., at 911. The fact that precharging period discrimination adversely affects the calculation of a neutral factor (like seniority) that is used in determining future pay does not mean that each new paycheck constitutes a new violation and restarts the EEOC charging period. Because Ledbetter has not adduced evidence that Goodyear initially adopted its performance-based pay system in order to discriminate on the basis of sex or that it later applied this system to her within the charging period with any discriminatory animus, Bazemore is of no help to her. Rather, all Ledbetter has alleged is that Goodyear’s agents discriminated against her individually in the past and that this discrimination reduced the amount of later paychecks. Because Ledbetter did not file timely EEOC charges relating to her employer’s discriminatory pay decisions in the past, she cannot maintain a suit based on that past discrimination at this time. B The dissent also argues that pay claims are different. Its principal argument is that a pay discrimination claim is like a hostile work environment claim because both types of claims are “ ‘based on the cumulative effect of individual acts,’ ” post, at 6–7, but this analogy overlooks the critical conceptual distinction between these two types of claims. And although the dissent relies heavily on Morgan, the dissent’s argument is fundamentally inconsistent with Morgan’s reasoning. Morgan distinguished between “discrete” acts of discrimination and a hostile work environment. A discrete act of discrimination is an act that in itself “constitutes a separate actionable ‘unlawful employment practice’ ” and that is temporally distinct. Morgan, 536 U. S., at 114, 117. As examples we identified “termination, failure to promote, denial of transfer, or refusal to hire.” Id., at 114. A hostile work environment, on the other hand, typically comprises a succession of harassing acts, each of which “may not be actionable on its own.” In addition, a hostile work environment claim “cannot be said to occur on any particular day.” Id., at 115–116. In other words, the actionable wrong is the environment, not the individual acts that, taken together, create the environment.[Footnote 7] Contrary to the dissent’s assertion, post, at 6–7, what Ledbetter alleged was not a single wrong consisting of a succession of acts. Instead, she alleged a series of discrete discriminatory acts, see Brief for Petitioner 13, 15 (arguing that payment of each paycheck constituted a separate violation of Title VII), each of which was independently identifiable and actionable, and Morgan is perfectly clear that when an employee alleges “serial violations,” i.e., a series of actionable wrongs, a timely EEOC charge must be filed with respect to each discrete alleged violation. 536 U. S., at 113. While this fundamental misinterpretation of Morgan is alone sufficient to show that the dissent’s approach must be rejected, it should also be noted that the dissent is coy as to whether it would apply the same rule to all pay discrimination claims or whether it would limit the rule to cases like Ledbetter’s, in which multiple discriminatory pay decisions are alleged. The dissent relies on the fact that Ledbetter was allegedly subjected to a series of discriminatory pay decisions over a period of time, and the dissent suggests that she did not realize for some time that she had been victimized. But not all pay cases share these characteristics. If, as seems likely, the dissent would apply the same rule in all pay cases, then, if a single discriminatory pay decision made 20 years ago continued to affect an employee’s pay today, the dissent would presumably hold that the employee could file a timely EEOC charge today. And the dissent would presumably allow this even if the employee had full knowledge of all the circumstances relating to the 20-year-old decision at the time it was made.[Footnote 8] The dissent, it appears, proposes that we adopt a special rule for pay cases based on the particular characteristics of one case that is certainly not representative of all pay cases and may not even be typical. We refuse to take that approach. IV In addition to the arguments previously discussed, Ledbetter relies largely on analogies to other statutory regimes and on extrastatutory policy arguments to support her “paycheck accrual rule.” A Ledbetter places significant weight on the EPA, which was enacted contemporaneously with Title VII and prohibits paying unequal wages for equal work because of sex. 29 U. S. C. §206(d). Stating that “the lower courts routinely hear [EPA] claims challenging pay disparities that first arose outside the limitations period,” Ledbetter suggests that we should hold that Title VII is violated each time an employee receives a paycheck that reflects past discrimination. Brief for Petitioner 34–35. The simple answer to this argument is that the EPA and Title VII are not the same. In particular, the EPA does not require the filing of a charge with the EEOC or proof of intentional discrimination. See §206(d)(1) (asking only whether the alleged inequality resulted from “any other factor other than sex”). Ledbetter originally asserted an EPA claim, but that claim was dismissed by the District Court and is not before us. If Ledbetter had pursued her EPA claim, she would not face the Title VII obstacles that she now confronts.[Footnote 9] Ledbetter’s appeal to the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA) is equally unavailing. Stating that it is “well established that the statute of limitations for violations of the minimum wage and overtime provisions of the [FLSA] runs anew with each paycheck,” Brief for Petitioner 35, Ledbetter urges that the same should be true in a Title VII pay case. Again, however, Ledbetter’s argument overlooks the fact that an FLSA minimum wage or overtime claim does not require proof of a specific intent to discriminate. See 29 U. S. C. §207 (establishing overtime rules); cf. §255(a) (establishing 2-year statute of limitations for FLSA claims, except for claims of a “willful violation,” which may be commenced within 3 years). Ledbetter is on firmer ground in suggesting that we look to cases arising under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) since the NLRA provided a model for Title VII’s remedial provisions and, like Title VII, requires the filing of a timely administrative charge (with the National Labor Relations Board) before suit may be maintained. Lorance, 490 U. S., at 909; Ford Motor Co. v. EEOC, 458 U. S. 219, 226, n. 8 (1982). Cf. 29 U. S. C. §160(b) (“[N]o complaint shall issue based upon any unfair labor practice occurring more than six months prior to the filing of the charge with the Board”). Ledbetter argues that the NLRA’s 6-month statute of limitations begins anew for each paycheck reflecting a prior violation of the statute, but our precedents suggest otherwise. In Machinists v. NLRB, 362 U. S. 411, 416–417 (1960), we held that “where conduct occurring within the limitations period can be charged to be an unfair labor practice only through reliance on an earlier unfair labor practice[,] the use of the earlier unfair labor practice [merely] serves to cloak with illegality that which was otherwise lawful.” This interpretation corresponds closely to our analysis in Evans and Ricks and supports our holding in the present case. B Ledbetter, finally, makes a variety of policy arguments in favor of giving the alleged victims of pay discrimination more time before they are required to file a charge with the EEOC. Among other things, she claims that pay discrimination is harder to detect than other forms of employment discrimination.[Footnote 10] We are not in a position to evaluate Ledbetter’s policy arguments, and it is not our prerogative to change the way in which Title VII balances the interests of aggrieved employees against the interest in encouraging the “prompt processing of all charges of employment discrimination,” Mohasco, 447 U. S., at 825, and the interest in repose. Ledbetter’s policy arguments for giving special treatment to pay claims find no support in the statute and are inconsistent with our precedents.[Footnote 11] We apply the statute as written, and this means that any unlawful employment practice, including those involving compensation, must be presented to the EEOC within the period prescribed by statute. * * * For these reasons, the judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit is affirmed. It is so ordered.
GINSBURG, J., DISSENTING
LEDBETTER V. GOODYEAR TIRE & RUBBER CO.
550 U. S. ____ (2007)
SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
LILLY M. LEDBETTER, PETITIONER v. THE GOOD- YEAR TIRE & RUBBER COMPANY, INC. on writ of certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the eleventh circuit [May 29, 2007] Justice Ginsburg, with whom Justice Stevens, Justice Souter, and Justice Breyer join, dissenting. Lilly Ledbetter was a supervisor at Goodyear Tire and Rubber’s plant in Gadsden, Alabama, from 1979 until her retirement in 1998. For most of those years, she worked as an area manager, a position largely occupied by men. Initially, Ledbetter’s salary was in line with the salaries of men performing substantially similar work. Over time, however, her pay slipped in comparison to the pay of male area managers with equal or less seniority. By the end of 1997, Ledbetter was the only woman working as an area manager and the pay discrepancy between Ledbetter and her 15 male counterparts was stark: Ledbetter was paid $3,727 per month; the lowest paid male area manager received $4,286 per month, the highest paid, $5,236. See 421 F. 3d 1169, 1174 (CA11 2005); Brief for Petitioner 4. Ledbetter launched charges of discrimination before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in March 1998. Her formal administrative complaint specified that, in violation of Title VII, Goodyear paid her a discriminatorily low salary because of her sex. See 42 U. S. C. §2000e–2(a)(1) (rendering it unlawful for an employer “to discriminate against any individual with respect to [her] compensation … because of such individual’s … sex”). That charge was eventually tried to a jury, which found it “more likely than not that [Goodyear] paid [Ledbetter] a[n] unequal salary because of her sex.” App. 102. In accord with the jury’s liability determination, the District Court entered judgment for Ledbetter for backpay and damages, plus counsel fees and costs. The Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit reversed. Relying on Goodyear’s system of annual merit-based raises, the court held that Ledbetter’s claim, in relevant part, was time barred. 421 F. 3d, at 1171, 1182–1183. Title VII provides that a charge of discrimination “shall be filed within  days after the alleged unlawful employment practice occurred.” 42 U. S. C. §2000e–5(e)(1).[Footnote 1] Ledbetter charged, and proved at trial, that within the 180-day period, her pay was substantially less than the pay of men doing the same work. Further, she introduced evidence sufficient to establish that discrimination against female managers at the Gadsden plant, not performance inadequacies on her part, accounted for the pay differential. See, e.g., App. 36–47, 51–68, 82–87, 90–98, 112–113. That evidence was unavailing, the Eleventh Circuit held, and the Court today agrees, because it was incumbent on Ledbetter to file charges year-by-year, each time Goodyear failed to increase her salary commensurate with the salaries of male peers. Any annual pay decision not contested immediately (within 180 days), the Court affirms, becomes grandfathered, a fait accompli beyond the province of Title VII ever to repair. The Court’s insistence on immediate contest overlooks common characteristics of pay discrimination. Pay disparities often occur, as they did in Ledbetter’s case, in small increments; cause to suspect that discrimination is at work develops only over time. Comparative pay information, moreover, is often hidden from the employee’s view. Employers may keep under wraps the pay differentials maintained among supervisors, no less the reasons for those differentials. Small initial discrepancies may not be seen as meet for a federal case, particularly when the employee, trying to succeed in a nontraditional environment, is averse to making waves. Pay disparities are thus significantly different from adverse actions “such as termination, failure to promote, … or refusal to hire,” all involving fully communicated discrete acts, “easy to identify” as discriminatory. See National Railroad Passenger Corporation v. Morgan, 536 U. S. 101, 114 (2002). It is only when the disparity becomes apparent and sizable, e.g., through future raises calculated as a percentage of current salaries, that an employee in Ledbetter’s situation is likely to comprehend her plight and, therefore, to complain. Her initial readiness to give her employer the benefit of the doubt should not preclude her from later challenging the then current and continuing payment of a wage depressed on account of her sex. On questions of time under Title VII, we have identified as the critical inquiries: “What constitutes an ‘unlawful employment practice’ and when has that practice ‘occurred’?” Id., at 110. Our precedent suggests, and lower courts have overwhelmingly held, that the unlawful practice is the current payment of salaries infected by gender-based (or race-based) discrimination—a practice that occurs whenever a paycheck delivers less to a woman than to a similarly situated man. See Bazemore v. Friday, 478 U. S. 385, 395 (1986) (Brennan, J., joined by all other Members of the Court, concurring in part). I Title VII proscribes as an “unlawful employment practice” discrimination “against any individual with respect to his compensation … because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” 42 U. S. C. §2000e–2(a)(1). An individual seeking to challenge an employment practice under this proscription must file a charge with the EEOC within 180 days “after the alleged unlawful employment practice occurred.” §2000e–5(e)(1). See ante, at 4; supra, at 2, n. 1. Ledbetter’s petition presents a question important to the sound application of Title VII: What activity qualifies as an unlawful employment practice in cases of discrimination with respect to compensation. One answer identifies the pay-setting decision, and that decision alone, as the unlawful practice. Under this view, each particular salary-setting decision is discrete from prior and subsequent decisions, and must be challenged within 180 days on pain of forfeiture. Another response counts both the pay-setting decision and the actual payment of a discriminatory wage as unlawful practices. Under this approach, each payment of a wage or salary infected by sex-based discrimination constitutes an unlawful employment practice; prior decisions, outside the 180-day charge-filing period, are not themselves actionable, but they are relevant in determining the lawfulness of conduct within the period. The Court adopts the first view, see ante, at 1, 4, 9, but the second is more faithful to precedent, more in tune with the realities of the workplace, and more respectful of Title VII’s remedial purpose. A In Bazemore, we unanimously held that an employer, the North Carolina Agricultural Extension Service, committed an unlawful employment practice each time it paid black employees less than similarly situated white employees. 478 U. S., at 395 (opinion of Brennan, J.). Before 1965, the Extension Service was divided into two branches: a white branch and a “Negro branch.” Id., at 390. Employees in the “Negro branch” were paid less than their white counterparts. In response to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which included Title VII, the State merged the two branches into a single organization, made adjustments to reduce the salary disparity, and began giving annual raises based on nondiscriminatory factors. Id., at 390–391, 394–395. Nonetheless, “some pre-existing salary disparities continued to linger on.” Id., at 394 (internal quotation marks omitted). We rejected the Court of Appeals’ conclusion that the plaintiffs could not prevail because the lingering disparities were simply a continuing effect of a decision lawfully made prior to the effective date of Title VII. See id., at 395–396. Rather, we reasoned, “[e]ach week’s paycheck that delivers less to a black than to a similarly situated white is a wrong actionable under Title VII.” Id., at 395. Paychecks perpetuating past discrimination, we thus recognized, are actionable not simply because they are “related” to a decision made outside the charge-filing period, cf. ante, at 17, but because they discriminate anew each time they issue, see Bazemore, 478 U. S., at 395–396, and n. 6; Morgan, 536 U. S., at 111–112. Subsequently, in Morgan, we set apart, for purposes of Title VII’s timely filing requirement, unlawful employment actions of two kinds: “discrete acts” that are “easy to identify” as discriminatory, and acts that recur and are cumulative in impact. See id., at 110, 113–115. “[A] [d]iscrete ac[t] such as termination, failure to promote, denial of transfer, or refusal to hire,” id., at 114, we explained, “ ‘occur[s]’ on the day that it ‘happen[s].’ A party, therefore, must file a charge within … 180 … days of the date of the act or lose the ability to recover for it.” Id., at 110; see id., at 113 (“[D]iscrete discriminatory acts are not actionable if time barred, even when they are related to acts alleged in timely filed charges. Each discrete discriminatory act starts a new clock for filing charges alleging that act.”). “[D]ifferent in kind from discrete acts,” we made clear, are “claims … based on the cumulative effect of individual acts.” Id., at 115. The Morgan decision placed hostile work environment claims in that category. “Their very nature involves repeated conduct.” Ibid. “The unlawful employment practice” in hostile work environment claims, “cannot be said to occur on any particular day. It occurs over a series of days or perhaps years and, in direct contrast to discrete acts, a single act of harassment may not be actionable on its own.” Ibid. (internal quotation marks omitted). The persistence of the discriminatory conduct both indicates that management should have known of its existence and produces a cognizable harm. Ibid. Because the very nature of the hostile work environment claim involves repeated conduct, “[i]t does not matter, for purposes of the statute, that some of the component acts of the hostile work environment fall outside the statutory time period. Provided that an act contributing to the claim occurs within the filing period, the entire time period of the hostile environment may be considered by a court for the purposes of determining liability.” Id., at 117. Consequently, although the unlawful conduct began in the past, “a charge may be filed at a later date and still encompass the whole.” Ibid.