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Supreme Court hears arguments in gender pay discrimination, antitrust cases

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] heard oral arguments [transcript, PDF] Monday in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. [Duke Law case backgrounder; merits briefs], 05-1074, a case that addresses whether and when a plaintiff may sue for pay discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 [text] if the disparate pay was received during the statutory limitations period but resulted from decisions that fall outside the period. Lilly Ledbetter, who worked at Goodyear for 19 years, alleged that she received less pay than male counterparts because of sex discrimination. After a jury in the Northern District of Alabama returned a verdict for more than $3.5 million in damages, the district court awarded Ledbetter $360,000. The US Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals reversed [opinion, PDF], holding that the district court should have granted Goodyear's motion for judgment as a matter of law because the statute required Ledbetter to file her complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) [official website] within six months of the alleged illegal employment practice. Lawyers for Goodyear and the US Department of Justice argued Monday that allowing Ledbetter's claim would "undo" the statute of limitations in pay discrimination cases, while Ledbetter's attorneys asserted that each paycheck represented a discriminatory act. All of the justices except Clarence Thomas [LII profile], a former EEOC chairman, participated in the questioning. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg appeared to doubt whether the statute of limitations should apply to claims alleging pay disparities that widened over a period of years, while Chief Justice John Roberts expressed concern about claims surfacing long after the alleged discriminatory act. AP has more.

Also Monday, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments [transcript, PDF] in Bell Atlantic Corporation v. Twombly [Duke Law case backgrounder; merits briefs], 05-1126, an antitrust case addressing whether a complaint under the Sherman Act [text] must allege specific facts showing that the defendants participated in a conspiracy, or whether a conspiracy may be inferred from their "parallel conduct." William Twombly filed a class-action lawsuit alleging that telephone and Internet service providers created after the breakup of AT&T in the early 1980s conspired by blocking local competitors from their service areas and agreeing not to compete with one another. The US District Court for the Southern District of New York dismissed the complaint for failure to state a claim, but the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit vacated the judgment and remanded [opinion, PDF], finding Twombly's pleading sufficient. At oral argument, Twombly's lawyers contended that a higher pleading standard would defeat meritorious claims by plaintiffs who can obtain evidence of conspiracy only through discovery. The defendants argued that a lower standard encourages companies to settle meritless cases - a position echoed by Justice Stephen Breyer, who said that a lax standard would allow plaintiffs to "sue half the firms in the economy." AP has more.

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