Pregnancy Discrimination Lawsuit Plaintiffs Denied Greater Retirement Benefits by Supreme Court

The U.S. Supreme Court decided May 18 that women may not sue over retirement benefits that reflect their companies’ history of pregnancy discrimination, the Associated Press reported May 18. The case pits four women retired from AT&T whose benefits are lowered because they took pregnancy leave before federal law required pregnancy leave to be treated like other temporary disabilities. The seven-justice majority agreed with AT&T that because the plan was legal during the plaintiffs’ leaves, the lowered benefits do not violate the law.

The four plaintiffs in the pregnancy discrimination lawsuit took maternity leave between 1968 and 1972, at a time when AT&T did not credit maternity leave toward pensions. In 1979, Congress passed the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which requires companies to treat pregnancy leave like other temporary disability leaves. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act was an amendment to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which made gender discrimination illegal. It requires employers to treat pregnancy like any other temporary disability, which means allowing the same kind of leave, the same kinds of accommodations, the same benefits and the same policy for holding jobs open. Employers also cannot make hiring or firing decisions based solely on pregnancy. And as with other employment rights laws, employers may not retaliate against workers for exercising their rights under the Act, or supporting others who did so.

Under that law, the maternity leaves would have counted toward the plaintiffs’ pensions. The plaintiffs argued that the pre-1979 discrimination was covered by the law because they are receiving pensions now, well after the Pregnancy Discrimination Act took effect.

The Supreme Court rejected that argument. The language of the Act did not make it retroactive, the majority wrote, nor does it apply to rules that are still in effect but were set before the Act. The two dissenters wrote that the majority misunderstood what Congress intended with the law. Justices Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg — the court’s only woman — wrote that Congress did not intend any further pay discrimination against pregnant women when it passed the law.

The pregnancy discrimination attorneys at Joseph & Kirschenbaum LLP are disappointed by this ruling, which allows the effects of discrimination to continue 30 years after the discrimination itself was made illegal. After all, AT&T could have recalculated pension benefits for formerly pregnant workers anytime during the last three decades. The ruling means that millions of retiring Baby Boomers, many of whom had children before the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, must rely on their employers to do the right thing when they retire.

Victims of pregnancy discrimination and retaliation have the right to file a pregnancy discrimination lawsuit claiming compensation for unpaid wages, benefits and other financial losses. If you believe you were treated unfairly at work because of a pregnancy, we would like to help. For a consultation with the national pregnancy discrimination attorneys at Joseph & Kirschenbaum, please contact us through the Internet or call (212) 688-5640 from anywhere in the United States.