WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court ruled today that women cannot claim retroactive pension credit for work time lost in the days before it became illegal to discriminate against pregnant women.
The 7-2 decision, in AT&T vs. Hulteen, 07-543, reverses a decision made by a divided 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The lower court and a trial court had ruled that unpaid maternity-leaves should count in determining pension.
“We hold there is no necessary violation; and the benefit calculation rule in this case is part of a bona fide seniority system under … the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which insulates it from challenge,” retiring Justice David Souter writes in the majority opinion.
Noreen Hulteen and 3 colleagues sued over pension plan treatment of pregnancies that occurred between 1968 and 1976, before the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 took effect.
The act, added to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act in 1978, bars pension plan sponsors from treating pregnancy leaves differently from other disability leaves.
Lawyers for the pension plan sponsor, AT&T, argued that Congress had not made the Pregnancy Discrimination Act retroactive, that the pension plan was legal when the women took the maternity leave, and that AT&T should not have to recalculate the plaintiffs’ retirement benefits at this time.
Section 703 (h) of the Civil Rights Act insulates a bona fide seniority system from challenge “provided that such differences are not the result of an intention to discriminate because of . . . sex,” the Supreme Court majority opinion held.