Last week, a United States District Court Judge for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania issued one of the few decisions thus far to analyze the reach of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. In Rowland v. CertainTeed Corp., 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 43706, Judge Schiller held that the Ledbetter Act’s extension of the statutory time period for claiming pay discrimination does not apply to a failure-to-promote case. In so holding, Judge Schiller reasoned that Congress limited the Ledbetter Act to claims of “discrimination in compensation.”
Under the Ledbetter Act, an unlawful employment practice occurs “when a discriminatory compensation decision or other practice is adopted, when a person becomes subject to a discriminatory compensation decision or other practice, or when a person 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.” 29 U.S.C. § 626(d)(3) (2009). This legislation followed the Supreme Court’s decision in Ledbetter v. Goodyear, which limited Ledbetter’s claim to adverse actions taken within 300 days of filing the EEOC Charge.
In Rowland, the plaintiff claimed that her employer denied her a series of promotions because of her sex. She further argued that the Ledbetter Act should be applied to enlarge the actionable period to extend to all of those adverse decisions, not just those that preceded her EEOC Charge by less than 300 days. As support, she analogized her continuing failure to be promoted to the continuing compensation practice complained of in Ledbetter v. Goodyear. She argued that the Ledbetter Act’s expansion of "unlawful employment practice" broadens the scope of the Act to failure-to-promote claims because promotions directly impact compensation.
Judge Schiller declined the invitation to apply the Ledbetter Act to these facts. He ruled that a "continuing violation" theory is inapplicable in the context of a failure to promote and explained that a “failure-to-promote claim divorced from a discriminatory compensation claim, as is the case here, does not fall within the purview of that newly enacted law…." Rather, each adverse action, namely the decision to deny her a promotion, is "a discrete act" that must be analyzed and complained of within 300 days of each discrete action as required by Title VII. Otherwise, the Ledbetter Act “would eliminate any statute of limitations with respect to reporting discrimination to the appropriate agency, a change in law not found in the Ledbetter Act."
In the coming months, we will see whether other courts follow Judge Schiller’s lead and limit the scope of the Ledbetter Act to only claims exclusively related to “discrimination in compensation.” But the analysis set forth in Rowland may, at least for now, be useful to support an employer’s argument favoring such a restriction when confronted with a Ledbetter Act argument outside the context of a compensation claim.