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At the Mercy of the Court

Lilly Ledbetter long knew something was up at the Goodyear Tire plant in Gadsden, Ala., where she was a supervisor. Her male colleagues bragged about huge paychecks while she was just getting by. In 1998, 19 years after she started at Goodyear, Ledbetter went to court alleging pay discrimination because of her sex—and won $360,000.

But that wasn't the end. In May, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the judgment and told the 69-year-old Jacksonville, Ala., resident that despite any discrimination that occurred, she had waited too long to bring her claim. What's more, in July Goodyear slapped Ledbetter with a bill for $3,165 to cover costs related to the suit. (A company representative says the charges are in accordance with a court order.)

Ledbetter, who is now retired, originally filed charges after she received an anonymous note detailing the thousands of dollars more her male colleagues earned each year for doing the same job she did. Ledbetter claimed she continually received smaller raises than her male counterparts, which eventually resulted in a severe pay discrepancy.

In its decision, however, the Supreme Court said Ledbetter's wait of more than 180 days after the first occurrence of pay discrimination was too long for her to sue, even if she didn't know how much her colleagues were paid.

Still, Ledbetter's efforts might yet yield results. In June the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2007, which would allow an employee to file a claim within 180 days of the last discriminatory paycheck, not the first. President Bush, however, says he intends to veto the bill.

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