Sunday, March 12, 2006
Case Law Development: U.S. Ninth Circuit 2-1 Rules that 1979 Pregnancy Bias Law Does Not Apply to Phone workers Who Took Leave Prior to that Year
The United States Circuit Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled 2-1 Thursday that employees who took pregnancy leave before 1979, when federal law first banned pregnancy-related discrimination, are not entitled to the same retirement benefits as workers who took disability leave in the same period. In its ruling, the court said that AT&T did not discriminate against women in violation of Title VII, who took pregnancy-related leaves before 1979, the year an amendment to Title VII became effective. The majority on the three-judge panel said it could find nothing in the text of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act to indicate a clear congressional intent that the provisions of the statute are to be applied retroactively. The court also said that “Deserving as these plaintiffs would seem to be of some accommodation in determining their current benefits, the question before us is not whether the employer owes these plaintiffs an accommodation, but whether the law compels it. Because the PDA cannot be applied retroactively either to invalidate the original accounting scheme for pregnancy leaves or to create a current violation of Title VII by this defendant . . . suit under Title VII [must] be dismissed for failure to state a claim on which relief can be granted.
Judge Rymer, in dissent, rested his analysis on the Circuit’s opinion in Pallas v. Pacific Bell, 940 F.2d 1324 (9th Cir. 1991), saying it was controlling. He observed that Pallas was premised on a discrete act — the decision to deny a retirement benefit — that gave rise to a current violation of the PDA. Given Pallas’s finding of a current violation, the Act operated prospectively on that decision.
It should be noted that the 7th Circuit in Pallas in Ameritech Benefit Plan Comm. v. Communications Workers of Am., 220 F.3d 814 (7th Cir. 2000) rejected application of the Ninth Circuit’s analysis in Pallas. Hulteen, et. al. v. AT&T, filed March 8, 2006, reo. You may download a copy here of this ruling.pdf