Friday, June 1, 2007

Goliah Beats David

Being a working class hero in the United States means you're already a day late and a dollar short. Yesterday, the Supreme Court just made it worse.

WASHINGTON — A sharply divided Supreme Court made it more difficult Tuesday for workers alleging race or sex discrimination to challenge pay disparities that occur gradually over several years.

The decision, viewed by employers as a victory and civil rights groups as a setback, immediately prompted some calls for Congress to amend federal law.

By a 5-4 vote along ideological lines, the court said workers cannot sue for paycheck inequities that become obvious only over time. The stance reverses a position taken by several lower federal courts and adopted by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which forbids job bias based on race, sex, religion and national origin, requires pay claims to be filed within 180 days of an employer's allegedly biased action. The dispute focused on what event could trigger the 180-day filing deadline. The court said Tuesday that only decisions that set pay qualify as such action. It rejected the view that each new paycheck could constitute a grievance and timely grounds for a claim based on earlier bias.

Justice Samuel Alito, voting on the side of the majority, said, "This short deadline reflects Congress' strong preference for the prompt resolution of...allegations." He added, "The deadline protects employers from having to defend practices that may be long past."


"The court's decision is a setback for women, and a setback for civil rights," Marcia Greenberger of the National Women's Law Center. "The ruling essentially says tough luck to employees who don't immediately challenge their employer's discriminatory acts, even if the discrimination continues." And, as dissenting Justice Ruth Ginsburg observed, this left workers with two bad choices: Sue early and bring a "less-than-fully baked case", or sue when the pay gap may be enough for a winnable case but get cut off by the deadline.

So, the erosion of rights of the working class goes on, as rich guys who own corporations got taken care of by rich guys wearing long black robes. It doesn't get any better, does it? The minimum wage is ridiculously inadequate, unions decline in power, there's outsourcing of jobs, the Incredible Shrinking Pension, layoffs, NAFTA, and seeing your life savings Enroned away.

What's next? Sharecropping? Debtors prisons? Indentured servitude? Leg irons?

Ahh, the Good Old Days.