Monday, May 18, 2009

Court: Old Maternity Leave Doesn't Count

Yet more news related to how male-oriented workplace practices discriminate against childbearing women and the realities of family life. (See my post about Social Security as well.) The crazy thing about this ruling—and the law before it became illegal for employers to discriminate against pregnant women—is that if a guy (or gal) was on disability leave from work due to breaking a leg while skiing, or suffering a heart attack due to smoking, or going into detox due to alcoholism, that time away from work would be counted in his/her retirement calculations. But a woman being denied vesting credit due to a pregnancy-related disability leave was (and for these women is still) allowed. Following is the AP story (which you can also link to via the title to this post, above):


WASHINGTON – Women who took maternity leave before it became illegal to discriminate against pregnant women can't sue to get their leave time to count for their pensions, the Supreme Court ruled Monday.

The high court overturned a lower court decision that said decades-old maternity leaves should count in determining pensions.

Four AT&T Corp. employees who took maternity leave between 1968 and 1976 sued the company to get their leave time credited toward their pensions. Their pregnancies occurred before the 1979 Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which barred companies from treating pregnancy leaves differently from other disability leaves.

AT&T lawyers said their pension plan was legal when the women took pregnancy leave, so they shouldn't have to recalculate their retirement benefits now. Congress did not make the Pregnancy Discrimination Act retroactive, they said, so the women should not get any extra money.

A majority of the justices agreed.

"A seniority system does not necessarily violate the statute when it gives current effect to such rules that operated before the PDA," wrote Justice David Souter, who will retire next month.

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer dissented. By making it illegal to discriminate against women on pregnancy leave, "Congress intended no continuing reduction of women's compensation, pension benefits included, attributable to their placement on pregnancy leave," Ginsburg said.

The decision could affect thousands of women who took pregnancy leaves decades ago and now are headed toward retirement.

A closely divided 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said that time should count in determining pensions.

The Bush administration had urged the court to reverse the San Francisco-based appeals court, with Justice Department lawyers arguing that a decision favoring the women might harm other employees who could lose expected benefits if the company cannot afford to put more money into the pension system.

AT&T lawyers said their leave policy now complies with the 1979 Pregnancy Discrimination Act, but argued that the law does not retroactively apply to old pregnancy leaves. They also said their claims should be invalid because they didn't make it decades ago, when the company first made the decision affecting seniority.

Lawyers for the four women argued that each reduced retirement check that they receive is "a fresh act of discrimination."

The Supreme Court in 2007 did not accept that argument from Lilly Ledbetter, who sued her company for discrimination after finding out after almost two decades that she made less than her male peers. The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 vote in May 2007, threw out her complaint, saying she had failed to sue within the 180-day deadline after a discriminatory pay decision was made.

The first bill signed into law by President Barack Obama reversed that decision by saying each new discriminatory paycheck would extend the statute of limitations for an additional 180 days.

1 comment:

fed up mom said...

It never ceases to amaze me how business and policymakers can be so manipulative about motherhood. They all talk about how much they value mothers, love children, support life, etc., but then leave women out on their own when it comes to being able to support and care for themselves and their children. I swear, if men got pregnant, so much would be different!


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