U.S. Supreme Court: Preganancy Discrimination Act Not Retroactive

AT&T's old pension plan used to provide that employees on pregnancy disability leave did not receive the same service credit as employees on leave for other disabilities. Just before Congress enacted the Preganancy Discrimination Act, in 1978, AT&T modified its service credit calculations prospectively, but still calculated pre-PDA service under its pre-PDA rules. Before the PDA, AT&T's calculations were legal under Supreme Court precedent interpreting Title VII.

Four AT&T employees sued AT&T, claiming that perpetuating the calculation of service credit violated the PDA because their pension benefits were reduced as a result of the pre-PDA calculation. The EEOC joined in, as did the Communication Workers' Union. The district court and Ninth Circuit agreed with the Plaintiffs.

However, the Supreme Court, on a 7-2 vote, reversed. The Court's decision, penned by soon-retiring Justice Souter, turned on a number of reasons, the most significant of which are:
- the prior calculation was a "seniority system" exempt from Title VII (pre-PDA);
- the calculation was considered lawful under Supreme Court precent, General Elec. Co. v. Gilbert, 429 U. S. 125 (1976); therefore, AT&T could not have intentionally discriminated by adopting the old system;
- the PDA was not retroactive;
- the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act did not save her claim because the underlying pre-PDA decision was not itself discriminatory.

Justice Stevens joined the majority, but also wrote a concurrence noting he was bound by the pre-PDA Supreme Court opinion, General Elec. Co. v. Gilbert, 429 U. S. 125 (1976), although he dissented in that case.

Justices Ginsburg and Breyer dissented. The dissent traced a history of discrimination against pregnancy in the workplace. Acknowleding that the PDA was not retroactive, the dissent in essence argued that because Gilbert was SO wrongly decided, it should not affect the decision in the present case. Here's the essence of the dissent:

The PDA does not require redress for past discrimination. It does not
oblige employers to make women whole for the compensation denied them when,
prior to the Act,they were placed on pregnancy leave, often while still ready, willing, and able to work, and with no secure right to return to their jobs after childbirth.[fn] But the PDA does protect women, from and after April 1979, when the Act became fully effective, against repetition or continuation of pregnancy-based disadvantageous treatment. Congress interred Gilbert more than 30 years ago, but the Court today allows that wrong decision still to hold sway. The plaintiffs (now respondents) in this action will receive, for the rest of their lives, lower pension benefits than colleagues who worked for AT&T no longer than they did. They will experience this discrimination not simply because of the adverse action to which they were subjected pre-PDA. Rather, they are harmed today because AT&T has refused fully to heed the PDA’s core command: Hereafter, for "all employment-related purposes," disadvantageous treatment "on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions" must cease. 42 U. S. C. §2000e(k) (emphasis added). I would hold that AT&T committed a current violation of Title VII when, post-PDA, it did not totally discontinue reliance
upon a pension calculation premised on the notion that pregnancy-based
classifications display no gender bias.

The case is AT&T Corp. v. Hulteen, and the opinion is here.