This case asks if a plaintiff made include actions occurring before the statutory limitations period in a Title VII claim alleging gender-based pay discrimination. At hire, plaintiff was paid identically with male workers with similar hire dates, but she was then passed over while males received many raises. Learning of the disparity, plaintiff filed an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission claim under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights. To foster efficient resolutions and bar stale claims, Title VII limits claims to events occurring within 180 days prior to filing. Based on the statutory period, EEOC denied relief.
Plaintiff then brought suit. Evidence showed a gender-related pay gap in defendant’s plant, plaintiff arguing this gap showed intentional discrimination, Defendant argued that plaintiff’s salary was due to job performance. Defendant gives merit raises based on evaluations using objective criteria. Plaintiff was consistently ranked among the worst workers, was passed over and considered for lay-offs. Plaintiff did receive one performance-based raise, but defendant said this was given to make her salary “more respectable.” Plaintiff prevailed at trial.
On appeal, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the complaint. Citing National Railroad Passenger Corp. v. Morgan, __ U.S. ___ (2002), the court held that a Title VII claim must stem from a discriminatory act occurring within 180 days prior to filing. Plaintiff had been twice denied raises in the limitations period, but failed to prove gender animus for either action. The court ruled that illegal acts occurring before limitations period began cannot be aggregated and introduced to show intent or to broaden damages.
The Supreme Court has granted certiorari. It will consider if the limitations period for a disparate pay claims can be modified. As amicus, the EEOC argues each inadequate paycheck given plaintiff was a discriminatory act under Title VII, notwithstanding the time limitation.
In Morgan, plaintiff claimed a hostile environment. The Court waived the limitations period, holding that hostile environment claims are distinct from discrete acts such as disparate pay claims. A hostile environment involves repeated conduct, which cannot occur on any one day. A single act of harassment may not be actionable separately. Before Morgan, the circuits split, a majority allowing retroactive claims. By focusing on the aggregation of occurrences that are not separately cognizable, Morgan has confused whether separate acts can be aggregated to make up a retroactive claim. Some circuits reject a categorical bar to discrimination claims taking place outside the limitations period.