The Supreme Court decision yesterday to reject the pay-equity lawsuit brought by a Goodyear Tire supervisor shows that the Bush administration will have a lasting legacy of judicial modesty, thanks to its appointments on the Court. Instead of rewriting a poor law, the Court followed it — and pushed the mess Congress created back in its own lap:
The Supreme Court on Tuesday made it harder for many workers to sue their employers for discrimination in pay, insisting in a 5-to-4 decision on a tight time frame to file such cases. The dissenters said the ruling ignored workplace realities.
The decision came in a case involving a supervisor at a Goodyear Tire plant in Gadsden, Ala., the only woman among 16 men at the same management level, who was paid less than any of her colleagues, including those with less seniority. She learned that fact late in a career of nearly 20 years — too late, according to the Supreme Court’s majority.
The court held on Tuesday that employees may not bring suit under the principal federal anti-discrimination law unless they have filed a formal complaint with a federal agency within 180 days after their pay was set. The timeline applies, according to the decision, even if the effects of the initial discriminatory act were not immediately apparent to the worker and even if they continue to the present day.
From 2001 to 2006, workers brought nearly 40,000 pay discrimination cases. Many such cases are likely to be barred by the court’s interpretation of the requirement in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that employees make their charge within 180 days “after the alleged unlawful employment practice occurred.”
Workplace experts said the ruling would have broad ramifications and would narrow the legal options of many employees.
Does the decision ignore workplace realities? Probably. As Ruth Bader Ginsburg noted in her dissent, salary increases do not get published, so any apparent inequity would take quite some time to discover. Further, it would take a long time to prove a pattern of such discrimination for an employer, especially one (like Goodyear) with many facilities in many jurisdictions. In fact, even for one employee, it would likely take more than one review cycle to determine whether discrimination exists or just one poorly-executed review.
And the response to that for the Court should be: Write better laws. It is not the job of the Supreme Court to rewrite poorly-constructed legislation. Congress obviously intended for a short window of opportunity for these complaints, for whatever reason they had. The Supreme Court follows the law, unless the law is expressly unconstitutional. Fine-tuning dumb laws and badly-written legislation isn’t the purview of the Court, but rather the responsibility of Congress.
Obviously, Congress needs to revisit this piece of legislation. Thankfully, we now have a Court which forces America’s elected representatives to do their job, primarily by refusing to legislate from the bench. This gives hope that the last fifty years of judicial legislation have come to an end.