(CN) – The 3rd Circuit cited the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, recently signed into law by President Obama, in reviving a woman’s claim that she was long overdue for a pay raise.
The three-judge panel in Philadelphia agreed to rehear Mary Lou Mikula’s case in light of the Act, which extended the statute of limitations in wage discrimination cases.
Congress passed the Act in response to the Supreme Court’s ruling against Lilly Ledbetter, an Alabama woman who claimed she’d been paid less than male workers during her 19-year career as a tire factory supervisor. The high court said Ledbetter needed to file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission within 300 days of finding out about the alleged pay disparity.
In Mikula’s case, the district court also dismissed her claims as untimely. She had complained that Allegheny County, Pa., paid her $7,000 less than a male counterpart.
After an investigation, the county determined in 2006 that her claims were unfounded, and that her “current title and rate of pay are fair when compared with similar jobs.”
Mikula disagreed, so she sued the county under the Equal Pay Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.
But the district court blocked her from proceeding, saying she didn’t file a complaint with the EEOC within the 300-day window. Mikula had discovered the pay disparity in 2004, but didn’t file her EEOC charge until 2007.
The 3rd Circuit acknowledged the passage of the Lilly Ledbetter Act in its March 2009 opinion, but maintained that Mikula’s claims should be dismissed, because the denial of a raise didn’t qualify as a “discriminatory compensation decision.”
The American Civil Liberties Union and the Women’s Law Project, among others, urged the appeals court to revive Mikula’s Title VII claim. Because she filed her EEOC complaint within 300 days of receiving a discriminatory paycheck, they argued, her claim was timely.
Upon rehearing, the 3rd Circuit agreed.
“Despite our earlier decision, we now hold that the failure to answer a request for a raise qualifies as a compensation decision because the result is the same as if the request had been explicitly denied,” the panel wrote.
Judges Barry, Smith and Garth reversed and remanded for further proceedings.