Alexander v. Seton Hall University, No. A-1251-08T3 (App. Div., December 7, 2009) – New Jersey’s Appellate Division has fully embraced the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. On facts virtually identical to the Ledbetter case, three female Seton Hall University professors sued the University under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD), alleging discrimination in pay based on their age and gender. Like Lilly Ledbetter, the three professors could point to no specific discriminatory pay decision made within the LAD’s limitations period. Also, like Lilly Ledbetter, the professors alleged that the pay discrimination was long standing and that they were entitled to invoke a “continuing violation theory” without having to challenge specific pay decisions made within the statute of limitations period.
Just as the professors’ claims tracked Lilly Ledbetter’s claim almost identically, so too the Appellate Division’s decision tracked the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in rejecting the plaintiffs’ claims. Adopting the rationale of the high court, the Appellate Division held that pay decisions were “discrete acts” which must be challenged within the limitations period. Thus, the plaintiffs could not challenge pay decisions made outside the limitations period even if the adverse effects of those decisions continued to the present.
In adopting the rationale of the Ledbetter decision, the Appellate Division stressed the importance of harmonizing the LAD with the U.S. Supreme Court’s interpretation of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Right Act, under which Lilly Ledbetter had sued. Although the U.S. Congress has amended Title VII and reversed the offending portion of the Ledbetter decision, the New Jersey legislature has not amended the LAD. Thus, in the absence of a statutory amendment, the professors’ claims were time-barred. Employers can expect two results from this decision. First, civil rights groups will pressure the state legislature to amend the LAD; second, for the foreseeable future, plaintiffs will bring pay discrimination claims only under Title VII.
Note: This article was published in the December 2009 issue of the New Jersey eAuthority.