U.S. High Court Rules for Employer in Pre-Pregnancy Discrimination Act Case

May 18, 2009 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled for the employer in a closely watched discrimination case over retroactive pension rights under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA).

In an opinion written by Justice David Souter for the court, justices threw out a 2007 decision by the 9 th  U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that AT&T had discriminated against women who had taken partially uncredited pregnancy leave before the PDA became law because they were dealt with differently than employees on disability leaves (see Employer Groups Watch AT&T Pregnancy Discrimination Case ).

In a 7 to 2 vote, the high court asserted that the AT&T’s pre-PDA pension formula withstood constitutional muster because its pension payments were in keeping with a “bona fide seniority system’s terms,” which rendered it unassailable to a challenge under Title VII.    

Noreen Hulteen and other female AT&T employees alleged the fact that the employer’s newest pension program was put in place after the PDA was enacted represented Title VII discrimination. While the program dealt with disability leave and pregnancy leave the same way for the purposes of pension computation, it offered no change for the group of employees who had taken pre-PDA pregnancy leave.   

The 9th Circuit, sitting en banc with all 15 judges considering the case, ruled 11-4 in 2007 that the plaintiffs were entitled to have their lost time included in pension calculations retroactively.

The Supreme Court ruling inAT&T Corp. vs. Noreen Hulteen et al. applies only to women who became pregnant before the Pregnancy Discrimination Act took effect in 1979.

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer dissented in the ruling.

The Supreme Court ruling is available at  http://www.supremecourtus.gov/opinions/08pdf/07-543.pdf .