Supreme Court Rules on Pregnancy Discrimination Case

The Supreme Court ruled that maternity leave taken prior to the 1979 Pregnancy Discrimination Act does not have to be credited to pensions in a 7 to 2 decision issued Monday. Retiring Justice David Souter wrote the opinion (see PDF) and Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer dissented.

According to the Associated Press, the suit originated with four employees who sued AT&T Corporation to get the time associated with maternity leave they took between 1968 and 1976 credited to their pensions. At the time, women were given only 30 days of maternity leave where they received paychecks and retirement credit, reported Bloomberg. Past the initial 30 days, maternity leave was treated as unpaid personal leave. Lawyers for AT&T argued that since the leave was taken prior to the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, benefits should not be recalculated.

The majority opinion says there is “no indication at all that Congress had retroactive application [of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act] in mind; the evidence points the other way. Congress provided for the PDA to take effect on the date of enactment, except in its application to certain benefit programs.” Therefore, the opinion argues, since AT&T had a bona fide seniority system where there are predictable financial consequences for employee actions, alterations to pensions based on maternity leave taken before 1979 are not required.

In her dissenting opinion, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote “Congress did not provide a remedy for pregnancy based discrimination already experienced before the [Pregnancy Discrimination Act] became effective. I am persuaded by the Act’s text and legislative history, however, that Congress intended no continuing reduction of women’s compensation, pension benefits included, attributable to their placement on pregnancy leave.”


Associated Press 5/18/09; US Supreme Court 5/18/09; Bloomberg 5/18/09

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