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Ledbetter Act Cannot Revive Old Failure to Promote Claim

    Client Alerts
  • March 12, 2010

Last month, EmployNews reported on efforts by employees to use the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act to bootstrap other discrimination claims never intended to be covered under that law. In February, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit rejected an attempt to apply Ledbetter to an old age discrimination claim.

In Schuler v. PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, the plaintiff was denied promotion to partner in 1999 and 2000, but did not file an age discrimination charge with the EEOC until years later. He claimed that under Ledbetter, his age discrimination lawsuit was timely, because the promotion denial depressed his compensation in years leading up to the lawsuit.

The D.C. Circuit rejected this reasoning, affirming summary judgment for the employer. The court concluded that Ledbetter's legislative history demonstrates that the law only covers old compensation decisions that have an effect on current pay. The failure to promote the plaintiff was independently actionable at the time the decision was made, even if it would have had no impact on compensation. The D.C. Circuit narrowly read Ledbetter to apply only to the type of discrimination present in that case.

This decision continues a trend of judicial refusal to extend Ledbetter's jurisdiction by analogy to arguably similar circumstances. While old discriminatory pay decisions or performance appraisals tied to pay can be challenged today due to their impact on current compensation, other employment decisions that incidentally affect pay cannot be retroactively contested.