550 U.S. 618 (2007), 05-1074, Ledbetter v. The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., Inc.

Docket Nº:05-1074.
Citation:550 U.S. 618, 127 S.Ct. 2162, 167 L.Ed.2d 982
Opinion Judge:ALITO, J., ROBERTS, C.J., and SCALIA, KENNEDY, and THOMAS, JJ.
Party Name:Lilly M. LEDBETTER, Petitioner, v. The GOODYEAR TIRE & RUBBER CO., INC.
Case Date:May 29, 2007
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 618

550 U.S. 618 (2007)

127 S.Ct. 2162, 167 L.Ed.2d 982

Lilly M. LEDBETTER, Petitioner,

v.

The GOODYEAR TIRE & RUBBER CO., INC.

No. 05-1074.

United States Supreme Court

May 29, 2007

Argued November 27, 2006.

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE ELEVENTH CIRCUIT

[127 S.Ct. 2163] Syllabus

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. 623-643.

(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-5(e)(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

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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 [127 S.Ct. 2164] recovery was based, discriminatory intent. United Air Lines, Inc. v. Evans, 431 U.S. 553, 97 S.Ct. 1885, 52 L.Ed.2d 571, Delaware State College v. Ricks, 449 U.S. 250, 101 S.Ct. 498, 66 L.Ed.2d 431, Lorance v. AT&T Technologies, Inc., 490 U.S. 900, 109 S.Ct. 2261, 104 L.Ed.2d 961, and National Railroad Passenger Corporation v. Morgan, 536 U.S. 101, 122 S.Ct. 2061, 153 L.Ed.2d 106, 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, 97 S.Ct. 2447, 53 L.Ed.2d 402. 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, 97 S.Ct. 2447. 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. 623-632.

(b) Bazemore v. Friday, 478 U.S. 385, 106 S.Ct. 3000, 92 L.Ed.2d 315 (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

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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. 633-640.

(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. 640-643.

421 F. 3d 1169, affirmed.

[127 S.Ct. 2165] 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, post, p. 643.

COUNSEL

Kevin K. Russell argued the cause for petitioner. With him on the briefs were Amy Howe, Pamela S. Karlan, Jeffrey L. Fisher, Robert L. Wiggins, Jr., and Jon C. Goldfarb.

Glen D. Nager argued the cause for respondent. With him on the brief were Michael A. Carvin, Shay Dvoretzky, and Jay St. Clair.

Irving L. Gornstein argued the cause for the United States as amicus curiae urging affirmance. With him on the brief were Solicitor General Clement, Assistant Attorney General Kim, Deputy Solicitor General Garre, and Dennis J. Dimsey. [*]

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OPINION

ALITO, JUSTICE.

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, 122 S.Ct. 2061, 153 L.Ed.2d 106 (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,

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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), 77 Stat. 56, 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...

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