Victim of discrimination? The clock's ticking

The United States Supreme Court

TEXT OF STORY

KAI RYSSDAL: Say you've been working for the same company for years. One day, you find out you've been discriminated against. Your colleagues were being paid a lot more than you were for all of those years. So, you sue.

Today, the Supreme Court kept an eye on the clock and the calendar. The Justices ruled that if you waited too long to bring your lawsuit, you're outta luck. Nancy Marshall Genzer reports now from Washington.


NANCY MARSHALL GENZER: Lilly Ledbetter worked for Goodyear for 19 years. During all that time, she was paid $6,000 a year less than the lowest-paid man doing the same work.

Ledbetter sued. Her case went all the way to the Supreme Court. Today, the Court ruled that workers like Ledbetter only have six months from when they were first discriminated against to file a lawsuit. The ruling means Ledbetter will only get six months of back pay — not the 19 years' worth she wanted.

Karen Harned of the National Federation of Independent Business says it's hard for companies to fight lawsuits focusing on decisions they made years ago.

KAREN HARNED: They cannot have the threat of a suit looming years after the fact, in which memories have to be tapped and it's just very hard, truthfully, to get at the truth decades after.

But workers may not realize right away that they're being discriminated against. How many of us actually know what the person working next to us is making?

Kate Bronfenbrenner teaches industrial-labor relations at Cornell.

KATE BRONFENBRENNER: To figure out whether you've been discriminated against, you have to have information. You have to do research. You can't do that quickly.

Some economists say there are workers who do need more time.

Gary Chaison is with Clark University.

GARY CHAISON: If there are extenuating circumstances, for instance the person may have been aware that there was pay discrimination but declined to say anything about it for fear that they would be denied future promotions or opportunities for training.

Chaison says for starters, Congress should update laws written decades ago.

In Washington, I'm Nancy Marshall Genzer, for Marketplace.

About the author

Nancy Marshall-Genzer is a senior reporter for Marketplace based in Washington, D.C. covering daily news.

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