The Supreme Court Got it Wrong and Women Suffer

We’ve only had a few months to celebrate President Obama and Congress telling the Supreme Court it got it wrong when it ruled against female workers in Ledbetter v. Goodyear. Now, the Court has delivered yet another blow to women.

In AT&T Corp. v. Hulteen, the Court ruled that women who took maternity leave in the 1970s can be paid less by their employer than men who worked for the same amount of time that they did. The plaintiff in the case, Noreen Hulteen, is one of four women who sued AT&T after learning that her pension benefits were lower than they would have been if she had received credit for pregnancy leave that she took before the passage of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 (PDA).  AT&T continued to deny Hulteen that credit when it set her pension benefits many years later.  But the Court said that didn’t violate the law.

In a strong dissent, Justice Ginsburg stated that the Court was allowing the employer to pay women “for the rest of their lives, lower pension benefits than colleagues who worked for AT&T no longer than they did.” Justice Ginsburg also recognized that in passing the PDA, Congress intended to bar disadvantageous treatment of pregnancy for all employment purposes, including pensionsan intent completely undermined by the majority’s opinion.

This ruling is a reminder of the importance of having Supreme Court justices who understand the real-world impact of their interpretations of laws that seek to eradicate the discrimination that unfortunately, and undeniably, is still all-too-present today.

The National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) submitted an amicus brief in the case, which is available [in pdf] here.

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