Handicapping a case heading to oral argument before the U.S. Supreme Court today, Yahoo! Finance's Daniel Gross insisted that "Wal-Mart has to like its chances" because "[t]he Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Roberts has generally been pro-business and hostile to the cause of workers."
Gross, who is also a senior editor for Newsweek, cited the 2007 ruling -- erroneously writing that the ruling came down in 2009 -- in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire in which "[the Supreme Court] threw out on a minor technicality the compelling case of Lilly Ledbetter, who had fought Goodyear Tire over sexual harassment and discrimination for a decade."
But the "technicality" as Gross sees it was actually pretty clear legislative language fixing a deadline beyond which lawsuits could not be filed.
From Justice Alito's opinion of the Court (emphasis mine):
Ledbetter, finally, makes a variety of policy arguments in favor of giving the alleged victims of pay discrimination more time before they are required to file a charge with the EEOC. Among other things, she claims that pay discrimination is harder to detect than other forms of employment discrimination.
We are not in a position to evaluate Ledbetter’s policy arguments, and it is not our prerogative to change the way in which Title VII balances the interests of aggrieved employees against the interest in encouraging the “prompt processing of all charges of employment discrimination,” Mohasco, 447 U. S., at 825, and the interest in repose.
Ledbetter’s policy arguments for giving special treatment to pay claims find no support in the statute and are inconsistent with our precedents. We apply the statute as written, and this means that any unlawful employment practice, including those involving compensation, must be presented to the EEOC within the period prescribed by statute.
In other words, while Ledbetter may have had a good policy argument regarding deficiencies in federal law, it was not for the court to essentially rewrite the relevant statute governing sexual discrimination litigation.
In response, Congress subsequently passed and President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act which addressed the "technicality" that Gross complained about. The constitutional system of checks and balances worked.