It’s easy to think that the Supreme Court only matters to attorneys. But if I have learned anything in my life, it is this: Supreme Court decisions have a huge impact on ordinary people and the justices who sit on the Supreme Court make a big difference.
In fact, justice served or justice denied often comes down to a single vote on the Supreme Court.
I know because I was denied justice in my pay discrimination case because of a 5-4 Supreme Court decision in 2007.
All I wanted was to work hard at a good job with a fair shot at taking care of myself and my family. After doing so for 20 years as a supervisor at Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company in Gadsden, Alabama, someone left an anonymous note in my mailbox that told me what the men I was working with were earning. I’ll never forget the pit in my stomach when I learned I had been earning 25 to 40% less than them despite doing the same job.
I thought about my family struggling to pay for our kids’ college education, our mortgage, medical bills.
Doing nothing was not an option. I filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and then I took Goodyear to court. The jury recognized that what happened to me wasn’t right, held that the company had paid me less just because I was a woman, and initially awarded me around $3.5 million to make up for all the years of being shortchanged.
But the Supreme Court took it all away by one vote. Five Justices said I should have complained sooner, within 180 days after I received my first paycheck — even though at the time I wasn’t aware that I was being shortchanged. They said that because I didn’t complain then, I had missed my chance, and it didn’t matter that Goodyear had discriminated against me for 20 years. I lost.