Quote of the Day - Delay always breeds danger and to protract a great design is often to ruin it.
Statutes of limitation bar old and stale claims, and provide certainty to eliminate past claims that may exist. For years, the date of injury has been the trigger for statutes of limitation in tort (injury) claims. In other words, it's the injury that puts the injured person on notice that the clock is ticking to file suit. The concept that the date of injury triggers the start of a statute of limitation has been the rule of law well before Sir William Blackstone started writing his commentary on the law in merry old England back in the mid-1700's.
So this week's Supreme Court decision in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company may surprise some, but perhaps more so on the basis that the Court was split along ideological lines in its 5-4 decision upholding Congresses' 180-day statute of limitation for bringing equal pay claims under the 1964 Civil Rights Act instead of this fairly long-established rule of law. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg makes this point best with her dissent: "The Court does not comprehend, or is indifferent to, the insidious way in which women can be victims of pay discrimination." Justice Ginsburg pointed out that early in a woman's employment at a company, she may not even be aware of the salaries of others, and "understandably may be anxious to avoid making waves."
But that's not the test.
The basis for determining whether a claim is time-barred is based on the injury, not the remedy. Justice Ginsburg argues instead for a tolling or delay of the 180-day time period based on the more amorphous passage of time to develop a better case. "Only over time is there strong cause to suspect that discrimination is at work," Justice Ginsburg wrote, meaning that a woman may not become aware of her claim for pay differential years after the cause of action arose. But Congress could not have intended such a result when it enacted a 180-day time limit on claims.
The majority opinion was written by Justice Samuel Alito who wrote, "This short deadline reflects Congress' strong preference for the prompt resolution of ... allegations." The majority decision was based on the core rationale for statutes of limitation: protecting employers from having to defend practices that may be long over.
Certainly Congress can amend the Civil Rights Act and provide for a longer statute of limitation as Justice Ginsburg suggested in her dissent, but for now, the law of the land provides 180 days to bring a claim under Title VII.