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Ledbetter Law Does Not Extend Statute of Limitations

    Client Alerts
  • February 19, 2010

Last year, President Obama signed in to law the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.  The Act in effect reversed a U.S. Supreme Court decision that limited wage discrimination claims to act of discrimination that occurred within the statutory period for filing a claim.  This means two years (three for an intentional violation) under the Equal Pay Act.  The Ledbetter Act removed this barrier by considering each paycheck to be a new violation of the law, even if the pay disparity resulted from discrimination occurring years or decades ago.

Some plaintiffs have misunderstood this law to entirely remove the statute of limitations for damages claims under the two laws.  If the alleged discrimination occurred years ago, the complaints seek damages going back to the original date of the alleged discriminatory Act.  Federal courts have correctly interpreted the Ledbetter Act to leave the period of limitations for wage discrimination claims unchanged.  In other words, while a plaintiff can allege that the pay disparity resulted from an old act of discrimination, the complaint can generally only seek compensation for two years wages under the EPA.

Although the case law under the Ledbetter Act is limited as of this time, federal courts have refused to use the Act's concepts to analogize to forms of discrimination beyond wage disparities.  Given these limitations, the volume of litigation and the resulting impact of the Ledbetter Act on employers has been fairly limited in the first year since its enactment.