U.S. Supreme Court
Supreme Court Rejects Pension Bias Claim over Old Maternity Leave
Posted May 18, 2009 10:29 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled against female workers claiming bias in maternity leave calculations in an AT&T pension plan.
The court ruled that women who took maternity leave before it became illegal to discriminate against pregnant women cannot get leave time counted in their pensions, the Associated Press reports. Justice David H. Souter wrote the majority decision, SCOTUSblog reports.
AP says the decision could affect thousands of women nearing retirement who took pregnancy leave decades ago.
Reports on oral arguments in the case identified Justice Anthony M. Kennedy as the swing vote. As it turns out, there was no need for his “swing”; the ruling was 7-2 in favor of AT&T. The four plaintiffs in the case, AT&T v. Hulteen, had sued under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, contending the company should have included leave time taken before passage of the law in its pension calculation.
Souter disagreed in an opinion (PDF) that considered whether the statute was intended to be retroactive. “There is no such clear intent here, indeed, no indication at all that Congress had retroactive application in mind; the evidence points the other way,” Souter wrote.
Souter added that a recent law allowing lawsuits for continuing pay violations does not apply in this case. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act is is inapplicable because AT&T’s pension calculations were not discriminatory, he said.
In oral arguments, Kennedy had said a ruling against AT&T could increase its pension costs or force it to cut benefits for employees not covered by the suit. Souter appeared to acknowledge that argument in his opinion.
“Bona fide seniority systems allow, among other things, for predictable financial consequences, both for the employer who pays the bill and for the employee who gets the benefit,” Souter wrote. “As §703(h) [governing seniority pension plans] demonstrates, Congress recognized the salience of these reliance interests.”