Spreading lies on the Ledbetter case 

Hearing some of the Democratic senators in the Kagan confirmation hearings, you would think that our current Supreme Court stepped out of a Charles Dickens novel to oppress people. Don’t believe it.

In particular, two senators have gone out of their way to misrepresent the court’s ruling in the Ledbetter case, in which the court rejected an employee’s Title VII discrimination lawsuit because she waited six years after learning of the discrimination before filing suit. From Hans Bader, writing for the D.C. Supreme Court Examiner:

In its Ledbetter ruling, the Supreme Court said that employees who choose to sue under the federal discrimination law with the shortest deadline (Title VII) should generally sue within 180 days, at least where they could have discovered the discrimination in time to do so.  It rejected as untimely a discrimination claim by Lilly Ledbetter, who had known for years of the pay disparity she later sued over.

That’s a far cry from how Senator [Ben] Cardin [D-Md.] describes the case.  Today, in the Supreme Court confirmation proceedings for Elena Kagan, Cardin made false claims, both about what the Supreme Court said in the Ledbetter case, and about plaintiff Lilly Ledbetter and her lawsuit.  In claims echoed by Senator [Dianne] Feinstein [D-Calif.], Cardin alleged that:

“The Court said Mrs. Ledbetter had to file her case within 180 days after the beginning of the discrimination, and since she did not do that, her claim was barred by the statute of limitations. This defies logic. How can a person bring a claim when they don’t know they are being discriminated against? It makes no sense.”

The Supreme Court said no such thing, as National Review’s Ed Whelan, a lawyer, notes, pointing out that Ms. Ledbetter knew for years of the alleged discrimination before she chose to sue over it.  The claims made by Senator Cardin were long ago debunked by the Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto, legal scholars like David Copus, legal commentators like Stuart Taylor of the National Journal, and lawyers like Paul Mirengoff.

Plaintiff Lilly Ledbetter lost her pay discrimination case because she filed her complaint too late. The Court said that in most cases, employees should file an EEOC complaint within 180 days of their first discriminatory paycheck, if they want to sue under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

But the Court also specifically left open the possibility that employees could sue later simply because they didn’t know of the discrimination at the time — a situation it said did not apply to Ledbetter’s case (she testified in her deposition that she knew of the pay disparity in 1992, but only filed her complaint with the EEOC in 1998, around the time she retired).

Most important:

The Court pointedly noted that plaintiff could have pressed her claim instead under the Equal Pay Act, which has a longer deadline for suing.

About The Author

David Freddoso

David Freddoso came to the Washington Examiner in June 2009, after serving for nearly two years as a Capitol Hill-based staff reporter for National Review Online. Before writing his New York Times bestselling book, The Case Against Barack Obama, he spent three years assisting Robert Novak, the legendary Washington... more
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