9th Circuit Rules for Female Workers in AT&T Pension Benefits Dispute

August 21, 2007 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - A federal appellate court ruling about pension service credits awarded to women who had taken maternity leaves from AT&T Corp. could lead to boosted benefits for as many as 20,000 women.

That was the outcome of a decision by the 9 th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled that the communications giant must credit women retirees with work time they lost during maternity leaves taken before the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act was enacted 30 years ago, according to a Los Angeles Times news report.

The ruling affects women who took maternity leave between 1968 and 1976; a plaintiffs’ attorney told the Times that up to 20,000 women could be affected. 

With all 15 judges in the San Francisco-based court hearing the case, the appellate panel split 11-4 to back claims by four longtime employees and the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Plaintiffs alleged the company’s pregnancy policies violated the women’s rights and dampened the amount of pension benefits they got.

According to the news report, the latest 9 th Circuit decision reinstates a holding by U.S. District Judge Martin Jenkins of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California that the company’s exclusion of pregnancy leave when calculating pension benefits violated federal law.

The Jenkins decision was thrown out by a 9 th Circuit three-judge panel last year, but the full court then voted to rehear the case with the larger panel – a move typically reserved for matters deemed to be of unusual legal significance.

The news report said the latest appellate ruling illustrated a sharp ideological divide on the court with all 11 judges who favored the plaintiffs appointed by Democratic presidents while the four judges voting for the company were selected by Republican presidents.

AT&T spokesman Walt Sharp said, according to the newspaper, “We believe the decision is inconsistent with current law and we are reviewing the decision to determine our next steps.”

The appellate court’s latest decision is  here .