Appeals Court Reinstates Pension Sex Discrimination Suit

September 8, 2004 ( - A ruling by a federal appeals court green lights a lawsuit against Minnesota Power & Light Company over allegations that women are being penalized with lower pensions because of 1960s-era personnel policies.

The  ruling by the US 8 th Circuit Court of Appeals overturns an August 2003 decision by US District Judge Ann Montgomery of the US District Court for the District of Minnesota throwing out the women’s lawsuit claiming they had been unfairly discriminated against (See  Court: Female Workers Not Entitled to Pension “Bridging” ). The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and Montgomery  had previously told the women they couldn’t apply new discrimination laws to old policies.

But the appeals court disagreed, saying the lawsuit relates to the company’s recent decision on its pension policies, not its old gender rules. The appeals judges ruled that those allegations involve a current federal discrimination law violation and that any statute of limitations didn’t begin running until the women actually retired and were denied the benefit they believe they’ve earned, the ruling said.

The plaintiffs complained about long-outdated policies allowing firms to fire women for being pregnant or getting married and alleged that they are being twice penalized by suffering a pension reduction because of the resulting breaks in their careers. The key to the dispute is a pension provision limitingbenefits to “years of continuous employment.” But the women argued the company had approved “bridges” to past employment for other workers.

“Rather than alleging that the defendant discriminated against them in the 1960s when they were originally terminated, we find that the plaintiffs’ complaints allege that the bridging provisions in the defendant’s pension plan were adopted in a discriminatory manner resulting in a present violation (of federal law),” wrote Circuit Judge Gerald Heaney.

The 13 female plaintiffs estimate an average bump of $400 in their monthly pension checks if they win the lawsuit, according to an Associated Press report.