Tx Supreme Court Limits Pay Discrimination Claims

On August 31, 2012, the Texas Supreme Court issued an opinion refusing to incorporate the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act into the Texas Commission on Human Rights Act (TCHRA),  holding that claims for pay discrimination must be brought within 180 days from the date the employee first discovers discrimination.   In Prairie View A&M Univ. v. Chatha, the plaintiff was a professor who filed a discriminatory pay claim two years after she first became aware of ongoing pay inequities between her and other faculty members.    Prairie View A&M asserted Chatha’s claims were time barred, and sought dismissal.

TCHRA is Texas’ anti-discrimination statute, and it is patterned after Title VII.    Sec. 21.202(a) states that employment discrimination complaints must be filed no later than the 180th day after the “alleged unlawful employment practice occurred.”   The word “occurred” is not defined.    Unlike a discriminatory termination, which is a single act on a known date, pay discrimination is often concealed (e.g. the boss does not tell you he is paying you less than your male counterpart for the same job),  and it is often  continuous (i.e. occurring every pay period for months or years).     In 2009, the U.S. Congress enacted the Ledbetter Act, which amended Title VII to provide a separate discriminatory pay claim each time a paycheck is received by a worker, and not just when an initial salary decision is made.

Chatha argued that the Ledbetter Act should be read into TCHRA, citing two federal district court cases which did precisely that, as well as TCHRA’s own statutory language which states that Chapter 21 executes “the policies of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and its subsequent amendments . . . .”      Not persuaded, the Texas Supreme Court decided in a 7-2 split that Chatha’s claims were time barred, and that the Texas legislature, and not Texas courts should decide if Ledbetter applied to TCHRA.

This is but another disappointing decision from the Texas Supreme Court adverse to the rights of Texas workers.  Until the Texas legislature enacts Ledbetter-type legislation, workers with possible pay discrimination claims should immediately file discrimination complaints when they first suspect pay disparity, and if litigation becomes necessary, file suit under federal discrimination laws.

“Legislation to apply the principle of equal pay for equal work without discrimination because of sex is a matter of simple justice.”

Dwight D. Eisenhower, 34th U.S. President

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John Wenke is an Employment Law Attorney practicing in the area of employment discrimination, wrongful termination, retaliation, and sexual harassment. Mr. Wenke represents employees in Texas and New Mexico, including but not limited to El Paso,  Las Cruces, Alamogordo, Pecos, Marfa, Alpine, Presidio, and Del Rio.