Court Rules the Pregnancy Discrimination Act is not Retroactive

May 18, 2009

Today the U.S. Supreme Court issued a disappointing ruling in the pregnancy discrimination case AT&T Corp v. Hulteen. AAUW officially supported the respondents in this case.

As AAUW Legal Advocacy Fund Fellow Rebecca Herr explained in a December AAUW Dialog post, the Hulteen case involved a group of women who took pregnancy leave at AT&T before the Pregnancy Discrimination Act became law. As a result, their pensions are smaller than those of women who took pregnancy leave at AT&T after 1978 and smaller than men who took short-term disability leave. The women argued that their pensions should reflect the new pregnancy leave policy, not the older, discriminatory policy. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the employees, and AT&T appealed. In 2008, AAUW joined the National Women’s Law Center on their amicus brief in support of the respondents.

Today, seven justices voted to overturn the lower court decision. In a majority opinion written by Justice David Souter — who recently announced his impending retirement — the court ruled that Congress didn’t make the Pregnancy Discrimination Act retroactive; therefore, the women’s retirement benefits should not be recalculated. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer dissented.

Not only is this ruling disappointing for the female employees at AT&T, who will continue to feel the ramifications of pregnancy discrimination in each pension check they receive, but the decision may affect thousands of women who took pregnancy leaves prior to 1978 and will retire soon.

Adam Zimmerman, former Regulatory Affairs Manager, also contributed to this blog post.

Holly Kearl By:   |   May 18, 2009


  1. […] U.S. Supreme Court issued a disappointing ruling in the pregnancy discrimination case AT&T Corp v. Hulteen. AAUW officially supported the respondents in this case having signed an amicus brief. The Hulteen […]

  2. Avatar Holly Kearl says:

    Roberta: AT&T didn’t penalize people’s pensions when they were out of work for short term disabilities so not doing the same for women who were out of work to give birth (considering the medical aspect of it, it is a short term disability of varying lengths for women), is discrimination. Additionally, the women are receiving pension checks NOW, after the Pregnancy Discrimination Act passed, and it would be very easy for AT&T to rectify the disparity. In fact, AT&T has probably spent more $$ on legal fees to fight fixing the pension error than if they had just fixed it.

  3. Avatar Pat Millhoff says:

    I think some people don’t understand this ruling. These women worked for A.T.T. They took a short time off to have a baby as women have done since time began. While they were off having their babies the company opted them out of their pension. Over time this can make a difference in one’s pension benefit. How anyone can think this makes sense is beyond me.
    It is important to remember that the AAUW pay gap research shows wage differentials exist even when pregnancy and family leave is factored in. With a decision like this, no wonder.

  4. Avatar Roberta says:

    This isn’t a matter of discrimination in the judicial system. We
    can’t have everyone thinking they are entitled to something
    everytime something doesn’t go their way. We make our own
    paths, and have to make choices constantly., Choice is the issue,, not discrimination and entitlement.

  5. Avatar Roberta says:

    Hooray for Souter, finally someone with common sense. If
    this was past, could we truly afford to pay retroactive. Makes
    you wonder what a lot of us did before these bills.AND, we
    survived without government handouts.

  6. Avatar Brian Conover says:

    As a person of color we fighting to expose not only the discrimination in the system but also in the judicial system. We would love to talk with you about a national campaign to bring these crimes to light. To stop discrimination you must cut off the head of the beast that keeps it alive. The courts failures to act in a honorable manor is sinful and corrupt.

  7. Avatar meg says:

    really disappointing – you’d think that Souter would want to leave on a good note.

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