Pregnancy Discrimination Harms Perpetuated By Supeme Court

The United States Supreme Court on Monday in its decision in AT & T Corp. v. Hulteen perpetuated the decades-in-accruing harms of pregnancy discrimination. The Court ruled 7-2 that working women must continue to bear the harm and the lower pension benefits inflicted by systematic pregnancy discrimination prior to enactment of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act in 1979. 

The case arose from the method by which AT & T calculated service credit time toward determining an employee's pension benefits. Basically, an employee received service credit time toward his or her pension for all leaves of absence caused by medical conditions, except those caused by pregnancy. The plaintiffs, four women who were or are life-long employees of AT & T, claimed that this method exclusing pregnancy leave from the calculation of service credit time discriminates against them based on their female sex.

The Court rejected their argument based principally on its 1976 decision in General Electric Company v. Gilbert, 429 U.S. 125 (1976), which held that a disability benefit plan excluding disabilities related to pregnancy was not sex-based discrimination within the meaning of Title VII. The Gilbert decision departed from the decision of every appeals court that had ruled on the issue. Just two years later, Congress enacted the Pregnancy Discrimination Act "so as to make clear that it is discriminatory to treat pregnancy-related conditions less favorably than other medical conditions."

But the Court ruled that the Pregnancy Discrimination Act did not help, because the Court majority held that the PDA applied only prospectively and did not ameliorate the discriminatory practices that Gilbert sanctioned. And so 31 years after the PDA was enacted, the Supreme Court disregards Congress's efforts to correct the Gilbert decision and perpetuates the discrimination that the PDA was intended to eliminate.