Lilly Ledbetter sued her employer for pay disparities which had occurred over years. She worked for Goodyear Tire and Rubber for decades. She sued based on the Equal Pay Act, a federal statute. She lost. The U.S. Supreme Court found that she sued too late. The statute of limitations required her to sue within 180 days of each violation. See opinion. The Court could have simply required her to sue within 180 days of the last violation. The problem for victims of pay disparities is that they, like Ms. Ledbetter, may not know until the very end of their career that that have been paid less for the same work. So, in response to the Ledbetter v. Goodyear decision, Congress passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act to make it easier for women to file suit if they learn late about a pay disparity.
Pay rates are remarkably difficult to investigate. Co-workers rarely discuss their pay. The employer will never publish pay rates. So, if a victim learns about pay issues, it is often accidental. Congress understood this when it passed the statute.
Since that act was passed, some 40 states have passed laws amending their state version of the Equal Pay Act to allow for late discoveries of pay disparities. Texas was set to become the 43rd state to pass such a law. Bipartisan support moved a bill through the recent Texas legislature seeking to amend the Texas version of the Equal Pay Act. But, Gov. Perry vetoed the bill. Disingenuously, he said there was already a federal law in place.
Yes, there is a federal law already in effect. But, for various reasons, many workers are unable or prefer not file suit in federal court. Federal court can be very unfriendly to discrimination victims. Federal deadlines to file suit are tighter. Just three years ago, there was the long drawn-out case of Judge Kent in Houston and Galveston, who was sexually assaulting his own female employees. See my post about Judge Kent. Now, there is Judge Hughes in Houston who made possibly racist comments about a plaintiff in a discrimination case. See my post about Judge Hughes. So, yes, federal court can be very unfriendly to discrimination claims. State venue provides an important option.
But, Gov. Perry has seen fit to limit options for victims of pay discrimination.