Blameless Ignorance? The Ledbetter Act and Limitation Periods for Title VII Pay Discrimination Claims
In Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., the Supreme Court rejected the argument that a new Title VII violation occurred and a new charge-filing period arose each time an employer issued a paycheck to an employee that reflected some past, uncharged discrimination (the so-called “paycheck accrual rule”). This opinion was effectively reversed when President Obama signed his first bill into law: the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009. The new law amended Title VII such that an unlawful employment act occurs “when an individual is affected by application of a discriminatory compensation decision or other practice, including each time wages, benefits, or other compensation is paid, resulting in whole or in part from such a decision or other practice.”
Considering issues of fairness to employees and employers, as well as the societal interest in repose, this Note examines the Ledbetter Act and measures it against two alternatives: (1) application of a discovery rule and (2) use of the doctrine of equitable tolling for fraud. The Note contends that the Ledbetter Act is a flawed way of addressing the problem that victims of pay discrimination face in detecting discrimination
and bringing suit within the limitations period. Concluding that the discovery rule has been foreclosed by Congress and the courts, this Note argues that equitable tolling for cases of fraudulent concealment is a sensible, viable way of giving blamelessly ignorant plaintiffs access to the courts and avoiding the drawbacks of the Ledbetter Act.