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7th Circuit: Ongoing Pay Discrimination Can Bring Old Statements Back Into Evidence

A phrase on a letterboard that says "Wanted: Equal Wages." This phrase depicts the need for equality, equal pay, and the end of job discrimination and sexism.
By Laura Temme, Esq. | Last updated on

When Cheryl Kellogg was hired to teach life science at the Indiana Academy for Science, Mathematics, and Humanities in 2006, she thought the salary offer of $32,000 a year seemed low. After all, she had a master's degree and had been teaching for more than a decade. And the Academy was an elite residential high school that shared a campus with Ball State. But the school's co-director quickly dismissed her attempts to negotiate, saying she didn't need a higher starting salary because he "knew her husband worked."

But that's not all.

Kellogg took the job, but found herself once again questioning her pay in 2018 when she learned a male colleague was making far more than her for the same work. When she voiced these concerns, she was told the issue was her starting salary. Her pay was "compressed" because those hired later started at a higher salary.

When she sued for gender discrimination, the district court granted summary judgment in favor of the Academy, finding that the conversation from 2006 could not be considered because it occurred outside the statute of limitations for Kellogg's claim.

The 7th Circuit disagreed.

Each Paycheck Resets the Clock

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals held that courts must look at the root of the issue when it comes to pay inequality. Otherwise, not only was Kellogg discriminated against and underpaid because she was seen as a secondary wage earner, she was being punished for waiting too long to sue.

The decision relied primarily on the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which states that the statute of limitations resets every time someone receives a paycheck that has been tainted by discriminatory practices. The Act was passed in 2009 to combat the very issue Kellogg faced.

The Supreme Court's decision in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. severely narrowed the time frame in which someone could file an unemployment claim for pay inequality. In response, Congress Passed the Ledbetter Act, which codified the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's position that each paycheck is a separate violation of anti-discrimination statutes.

The panel held that Kellogg's "evidence of unequivocal discrimination" was admissible because the views expressed in the 2006 comment were still impacting her pay.

"The Academy blatantly discriminated against Kellogg by telling her that, because her husband worked, she did not need any more starting pay," Judge Michael Kanne wrote on behalf of the panel. "Such clear discrimination calls the sincerity of the Academy's rationales into question."

The case has been remanded back to the district court.

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