Skip to Main Content

Keeping you informed

Seventh Circuit Says Ledbetter Act Applies to § 1983 Claims

    Client Alerts
  • April 08, 2011

The Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act amended Title VII's limitations period to allow claims against employers for past discriminatory practices that have a current effect on employee pay. Since the Act was adopted in 2009, federal courts have generally rejected attempts to use Ledbetter as the basis for overcoming statute of limitations issues for other types of discrimination claims. Last week however, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals held that Ledbetter's policy intent applies to race discrimination claims brought under § 1983. Section 1983 is a Reconstruction-era statute that among other things, prohibits race discrimination in public employment under constitutional Equal Protection principles.

In Groesch v. City of Springfield, the plaintiffs were white police officers who alleged reverse race discrimination. The plaintiffs had resigned from employment and then reapplied for jobs with the city. They alleged that their rehiring was delayed and that they were forced to start at entry level salaries compared to an African-American officer who was immediately reinstated at his old rank and salary after having resigned.

The city claimed that the § 1983 claims were time-barred because the alleged reinstatement discrimination occurred more than the two-year period of limitations for claims under that law. The plaintiffs claimed that under Ledbetter, each paycheck they receive restarts the limitation period, because it reflects pay differences based on the prior discriminatory acts.

The Seventh Circuit agreed with the plaintiffs, concluding that the legislative policies behind Title VII and § 1983 were similar, and that it made no sense to apply the paycheck accrual rules to one law and not the other. Despite the fact that the Ledbetter Act only mentions Title VII, the Seventh Circuit could not find any plausible reason not to apply the same rules to § 1983 claims.

Although this decision has a relatively limited reach, it could open the door to renewed arguments to apply Ledbetter Act concepts to defeat other limitations periods contained in federal employment laws.