Ginsburg Dissent: Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. Case Summary

This case summary was written by Elizabeth Bowman for the Law Library blog.  You can listen to Justice Ginsburg announce her dissent and imagine her wearing her “dissent jabot” (see the display in the Law Library lobby):  The decision in this case led to the enactment of the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, Pub.L. 111-2, § 1, Jan. 29, 2009, 123 Stat. 5.  You may view the Act on Heinonline’s U.S. Statutes at Large collection or on using advanced search and selecting the 111th Congress.

Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., 550 U.S. 618 (2007)

Lilly Ledbetter worked as a supervisor for Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company at its Gadsden, Alabama plant from 1979 to 1998.  By the end of Ledbetter’s tenure, her salary was $3,727.00, while her lowest paid male counterpart earned $4,286.00 and the highest paid earned $5,236.00.  In 1998, Ledbetter filed a complaint with EEOC and then sued Goodyear under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, alleging that poor performance evaluations because of her sex resulted in lower pay than her male coworkers.

A jury found for Ledbetter and awarded her over $3.5 million in back pay and damages, which the district judge later reduced to $360,000.  The Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit reversed, holding that Ledbetter’s claim was time barred. Title VII requires that a charge must be filed with EEOC within 180 or 300 days, depending on the state, from the date of the alleged violation.  The Court of Appeals concluded there was insufficient evidence to prove that Goodyear acted with discriminatory intent in making only two pay decisions that occurred within the 180-day filing deadline.

The question before the Supreme Court was whether and under what circumstances a plaintiff may bring an action under Title VII alleging illegal pay discrimination when the disparate pay is received during the statutory limitations period, but is the result of intentionally discriminatory pay decisions that occurred outside the limitations period.  In a 5-4 decision authored by Justice Alito, the Court held that discriminatory intent must occur during the 180-day statutory period, and thus, Ledbetter’s claim was untimely filed.

Justice Ginsburg sharply disagreed with the majority and read from the bench her passionate dissent.  Joined by Justices Stevens, Souter, and Breyer, she argued that pay disparities are significantly different from other types of discrimination, such as termination or failure to promote, which are “easy to identify” and allow a worker to immediately seek redress. Pay discrimination on the other hand is often “hidden from sight”, occur in increments, and become evident only over time.  Justice Ginsburg explained that rather than viewing salary setting decisions as “discrete from prior and subsequent decisions,” as the majority did, the better approach, consistent with Title VII’s purpose and Supreme Court precedent, is to “treat each payment of a wage or salary infected by sex-based discrimination” as an unlawful employment practice and “prior decisions, outside the 180–day charge-filing period,” although not actionable themselves, as “relevant in determining the lawfulness of conduct within the period.”  Justice Ginsburg took into account the realities of the workplace in her opinion.  She ultimately determined that the Court’s “cramped” interpretation of Title VII was “incompatible with the statute’s broad remedial purpose.”

Less than two years later, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was signed into law in 2009, which reversed the Supreme Court’s decision and makes clear that each discriminatory paycheck resets the 180-day limit to file a claim, helping to ensure that individuals subjected to illegal pay discrimination may effectively assert their rights.

Ginsburg Dissent: Gratz v. Bollinger Case Summary

This week the Law Library tasked law student Andy Kiyuna with summarizing a dissent by Justice Ginsburg.  In her dissent concerning the University of Michigan’s affirmative action admissions policy in Gratz v. Bollinger, Justice Ginsburg relied upon a 1998 journal article authored by Professor Linda Hamilton Krieger.  Professor Krieger’s article titled, Civil Rights Perestroika: Intergroup Relations After Affirmative Action is found at 86 Cal. L. Rev. 1251.

Gratz v. Bollinger, 539 U.S. 244 (2003)

Jennifer Gratz and Patrick Hamacher applied for admission to the University of Michigan’s College of Literature, Science, and the Arts (LSA) in 1995 and 1997, respectively. Both applicants were Caucasian residents of Michigan, both were told that final decisions on their applications were to be delayed, and both applicants were eventually denied. What differentiated Gratz and Hamacher from the rest of the students denied admission to LSA was the lawyers they hired and the certified class action against the University.

Under the admission policy during 1995 to 1998, the University admitted nearly every qualified “underrepresented minority” applicant. The policy scored students higher for admission for students who were underrepresented minorities, socioeconomically disadvantaged, attended a high school with a predominantly underrepresented minority population, or underrepresented in the unit the student is applying to. Starting in 1998, the University shifted its policy to a point system where 20 points were automatically awarded if a student was a member of an underrepresented minority group, attended a predominantly minority or disadvantaged high school, or was recruited for athletics. Under the new system, all students who scored over 100 under the admission policy were automatically admitted.

The question raised before the Supreme Court was whether the University’s use of racial preferences in undergraduate admissions violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. With a 6-3 majority, the Court answered yes. Since the policy automatically awarded 20 points rather than provide individual consideration for underrepresented minorities, the court found that the admission policy was not narrowly tailored to achieve the University’s asserted interest in diversity, thus violating the Equal Protection Clause.

In her dissent, Justice Ginsburg argued that since the admission policy does not seek to limit or decrease enrollment by any particular racial or ethnic group, and no seats are reserved on the basis of race, that the University did not violate the Equal Protection Clause. Ginsberg points out that race is not simply an impermissible classification, but that our Constitution is both “color blind” and “color conscious” on the subject. It is also worth noting that Professor Linda Hamilton Krieger[1] is cited twice in Ginsberg’s dissent, fueling the Justice’s arguments that “the stain of generations of racial oppression is still visible in our society… and the determination to hasten its removal is vital.”

[1] Linda Hamilton Krieger, Civil Rights Perestroika: Intergroup Relations After Affirmative Action, 86 Cal. L. Rev. 1251 (1998).

CourtListener: Free Legal Research

CourtListener landing page

CourtListener is an open source aggregator of court opinions. It is a subproject of the Free Law Project.

From their site:

“We collect legal opinions from court websites and from data donations, and are aiming to have the best, most complete data on the open Web within the next couple years. We are slowly expanding to provide search and awareness tools for as many state courts as possible, and we already have tools for all of the Federal Appeals Courts.”

Some key differences of this new site include RECAP documents, oral arguments, Judge analysis, and data-rich visualizations.

The RECAP Archive is a searchable collection of PACER documents and dockets that were gathered using the RECAP Extensions for Firefox and Chrome.

The site collects oral argument audio from the Supreme Court and all of the Federal Circuit courts that provide it. State oral arguments are slowly being added.

The judges database has information about thousands of judges from federal and state courts, including their biographical and educational background, judicial and non-judicial positions held, political affiliations, American Bar Association ratings, campaign finance data, and opinions authored.

The site hosts a powerful advanced search that allows one to mine the database from many fields.

United States v. Virginia Case Summary

The following case brief was prepared by Brandon Singleton for this blog in anticipation of Justice Ginsburg’s visit in February.  United States v. Virginia was a seminal case about gender-based classifications at Virginia Military Institute.  Writing for the majority, Justice Ginsburg used the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to cause the institution to admit 30 women in the fall of 1997.  You can read a news article from the Washington Post about this first co-ed class.

Next week we will focus on a dissent that Justice Ginsburg wrote.  See a picture of the collar Justice Ginsburg wears when she has a dissent in the Law Library display (“The Notorious RBG”) on Justice Ginsburg in the lobby.

United States v. Virginia, 518 U.S. 515 (1996)


The Virginia Military Institute (VMI) was established in 1839 as one of America’s first state military colleges, funded by the Commonwealth of Virginia. Its mission is to produce “citizen-soldiers, men prepared for civilian life and military service.” It accomplished that mission through extreme adversity. New cadets were known as “rats,” and, for approximately 7 months, underwent a trial known as the “rat line,” where they were exposed to physical and mental stress. To quote the Commandant of Cadets, Col. Bissell, [the rat line], “‘dissects the young student,’ and makes him aware of … ‘how far he can go with his anger, … how much he can take under stress, … what he can do when he is physically exhausted.’”

In 1990, VMI’s single-sex policy was finally challenged when a female high-school student, seeking admission to VMI, filed a complaint with the Attorney General. She alleged that VMI’s exclusively male admission policy violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. She was one of 347 women who had sent inquiries to VMI, none had received responses.

Virginia argued that VMI’s “adversative” method of training was inherently unsuitable for women. It argued that, not only did single-sex education yield important educational benefits, but those benefits could not be made available to women without alterations that would necessarily destroy VMI’s program.

The Federal District Court ruled in favor of VMI, holding that a single-gender environment yields substantial educational benefits. But the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed. The appellate court found that the Commonwealth failed to show that VMI’s admissions policy advanced any state policy. Moreover, it was contrary to the state’s announced commitment to non-discrimination and diversity in education. As a remedial measure, Virginia proposed the creation of a parallel women’s program, called the Virginia Women’s Institute of Leadership (VWIL). The 4th Circuit accepted that proposal, calling it “substantively comparable.” In response, the Attorney General appealed the case to the Supreme Court.


Virginia’s petition for separate male and female military schools raised two main issues: 1) whether Virginia’s exclusion of qualified women from VMI denied them equal protection under the 14th Amendment, and 2) if yes, what remedy was required?


In a 7 to 1 decision, the Court held that VMI’s male-only admissions policy violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. Justice Ginsburg, writing for the majority, drew a clear rule: under equal protection analysis, parties seeking to defend gender-based government action must demonstrate “exceedingly persuasive justification” for the action. Here, Virginia failed to meet that standard.

First, Virginia failed to show that the male-only admissions policy advanced a state policy. In fact, the policy was per-se counter to Virginia’s stated commitment to furthering diversity in education.

Furthermore, Virginia’s proposed remedy, the creation of a separate women’s institute, VWIL, was insufficient because it could not offer the same benefits to women that VMI offered to men. VWIL would not provide the same rigorous military training, academics, or alumni involvement that VMI provided. VWIL would not require students to wear uniforms, eat together, or participate in any activities typical of a military format. For these reasons, the 4th Circuit’s finding that VWIL and VMI were “substantively comparable” was misplaced, and the standard inconsistent with precedent. The appropriate remedy was to admit qualified women to VMI. Here, Justice Ginsburg plainly stated the appropriate standard: all gender-based classifications must be evaluated with “heightened scrutiny.” Borrowing from the ideas of constitutional historian, Richard Morris, Justice Ginsburg wrote that, “a prime part of the history of our Constitution is the story of the extension of constitutional rights and protections to people once ignored or excluded.” Here, “there is no reason to believe that the admission of women capable of all the activities required of VMI cadets would destroy the Institute rather than enhance its capacity to serve the ‘more perfect Union.’”

Mindfulness Practice Resumes in Spring 2017

man meditating in fieldMindfulness practice (aka meditation) has many benefits. I attended a conference presentation last summer focused on being present and learning what other law schools and lawyers were doing to promote mindfulness into their academics and private practice.

The presentation had a useful handout giving simple beginner’s advice, list of resources, and bios on the speakers.

Below are takeaways from this presentation:

  • Kyle Courtney from Harvard noted libraries are great spaces for mindfulness and meditation. Meditation represents another point of service for the library. I have conducted weekly mindfulness sittings at the law library but I may consider a week-long session (if there is interest). Harvard holds retreats over the winter term. Some law schools adopt mindfulness into the curriculum offering credited study.
  • Jessica Fayerman, a solo practitioner in Chicago, is a member of a Chicago bar mindfulness group. She acknowledged that meditation is a great stress relief for attorneys, and it helps remind us our work is not just about us (it’s just not our personal battles). Through meditation we encompass a wider space and learn the difference between reacting and responding. Mindfulness encourages collaborative leadership.
  • Rev. Eitaro Hayashi of Shinnyo-en, a US Buddhist Order, advised us to be present and learn to do one thing at a time (avoid multitasking).
  • During the Q&A portion I learned about a law professor who lead one class with a short breathing exercise and found that it encouraged better discussion and listening. I tried this technique in one of my classes and found the students less restive and more focused.

I will resume weekly mediation sessions in January. Everyone is invited (students, faculty, and staff). I will provide an introductory period for anyone who is new. Just let me know you need some training when you arrive (or tell me in the comments section below).

Here are the details for the weekly (starting January 26) meditation sessions: Thursdays at 12 noon in room 118 of the law library. Come as you are. Drop-in or leave as needed. Each session will last approximately 20 minutes, so you should still have time to get lunch.

If you are interested in more details about mindfulness or our weekly meditations, use this contact form:

Book Talk at the Law Library: Food and Power in Hawaii

book cover
book cover

Professors Krisna Suruyanata and Monique Mironesco presented on their new book, Food and Power in Hawaii: Visions of Food Democracy. The talk was a highlight from two chapters in the book.

Prof. Suruyanata told us present-day Hawaii only uses around 400,000 acres for agriculture. The urban centers have grown by about 50,000 acres since 1978.  There has been a drastic change in the type of agriculture in Hawaii over the last 100 years: from sugar to pineapple to macadamia nuts and tropical flowers.

Hawaii’s dependence on imported food to eat ballooned as the local production of food dwindled. Prof. Suruyanata merged her love and scholarship of geography to explain how these evolving agricultural landscapes changed over the decades and the policy tools implemented to make these changes. She surmises the laws created to protect agricultural lands have failed largely and have had little impact on rural gentrification.

Prof. Mironesco looked to farmers’ markets, analyzing them through the lens of a political scientist. She alleges these markets are a political tool and come in varying models and purposes. Their benefits include promoting farm security and food security. However, these markets do not always reach their stated goal which is to increase income for local farmers.

There are competing interests the farmers’ markets of Hawaii: increased income to farmers versus the need to feed Hawaii’s low-income population. Another competing dynamic markets face is catering to tourists versus local customers. Generally speaking, tourists tend to want more souvenirs and food to be eaten on the spot whereas locals are looking for fresh food to take home with them.

Farmers’ markets have greater enemies also: agri-food business. When it’s easier or cost-effective, market vendors carry food from Costco rather than food they have grown. This is not encouraging a light carbon footprint or sustainability principles.

On the positive side, Mironesco told us agricultural business can be a perfect training ground for students. They learn transferable skills like customer service, project management, logistics, and accounting to name a few. She feels we could start a renaissance in Hawaiian agriculture that will help feed and train skills to future residents of Hawaii.

The above is a summary of the great presentation. Chili, lemon water, and coffee were served. All in all, this was a successful inaugural event. The library hopes to continue the series and plans on a second book talk in the Spring. Stay tuned…

Images from the event: Flickr Images