Discrimination through the generations

May 31, 2007, 5:16 PM UTC

A furor’s been building over this decision since it came down on Tuesday, so I bring it up not because it’s Gen Y-specific, but because for those of us who haven’t caught up yet, it’s worth knowing. As it’s thumbnailed on Fortune senior writer Anne Fisher’s blog, Ask Annie, “The U.S. Supreme Court decided Tuesday in a 5-4 ruling that employees who want to take legal action against a discriminatory employer must file a formal complaint with a federal agency within 180 days of an employer’s explicit offense (i.e. either hiring a woman for less pay than a man or giving her a smaller raise because she’s female).”

Of course, it’s been discussed everywhere—and in a less than positive light—by Anne and Slate, among others. Essentially, as Anne puts it, “Under the Supreme Court’s new ruling, systematically paying someone less on the basis of sex would be perfectly fine…as long as she doesn’t figure it out within six months.”

Based on what I’ve learned about Gen Y men and women in both my reporting and just my life, we’re aware of these persistent gender issues in the workplace—and some of us have even experienced their negative effects. But most of us don’t live in a reality where this kind of sex discrimination is institutionalized. Sure, my female friends and I have all at one time or another had to shake off such indignities as male colleagues calling us “honey” or asking if we cook. But did we feel like that marginalization was company policy, or just one or two stupid jerks? I’d say the latter.

A decision like this one, though, reminds me just how institutional this kind of discrimination still is. And it’s pretty scary and infuriating (to me, at least). Do you agree, and is it a good reminder for those of us—both men and women—who didn’t grow up confronting these issues every day? Or does this ruling make sense?