The U.S. Supreme Court’s extreme right majority handed down a decision May 29 crippling the right of women workers to win justice in pay discrimination cases. The court ruled 5-4 that women have 180 days to file a wage bias complaint against their employer. If they miss that deadline, they are barred forever from winning redress.

The case involved Lilly Ledbetter, who worked for 19 years at the Goodyear Tire and Rubber plant in Gadsden, Ala. Shortly after retiring in 1998, she filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission stating that she was earning $3,727 per month while men performing the same job were paid up to $5,236 per month. A lower court awarded her $360,000 to compensate for this flagrant discrimination.

But Justice Samuel Alito, writing for the Supreme Court majority, reversed that award. “Ledbetter should have filed an EEOC charge within 180 days after each allegedly discriminatory pay,” he wrote. He was joined by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., and Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy and Clarence Thomas.

Dissenting were Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, David Souter, Stephen G. Breyer and John Paul Stevens. Ginsburg was so outraged that she called on Congress to immediately enact legislation to reverse the decision. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) did just that.

These five men have issued an open invitation for employers like Goodyear to keep enforcing their sexist and racist wage differentials that squeeze many billions in super-profits from the backs of women and racially oppressed workers every year. This ruling makes it harder for women to close the earnings gap, 77 cents for every dollar a man earns.

The Democratic leadership in both House and Senate must act quickly on the Clinton bill to reverse this decision.

The Roberts court’s increasingly reactionary, pro-corporate rulings help to illustrate the stakes in 2008. We must not allow the election of a Republican carbon copy of George W. Bush who will further pack our highest court with cynical agents of the corporate rich and the ultra-right.

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