High court ruling discounts old maternity leave
WASHINGTON - Women who took maternity leave before Congress outlawed pregnancy discrimination could be stuck with lower retirement paychecks after the Supreme Court refused to let four women sue AT&T Corp. for higher pension payments.
The high court, in a 7-2 ruling issued yesterday, overturned a lower-court decision that said decades-old maternity leaves should count in determining pensions.
The court's decision "forces women to pay a high price today because their employers discriminated yesterday," said Debra L. Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women and Families.
Four AT&T Corp. employees who took maternity leave between 1968 and 1976 sued the company to get their leave time credited toward their pensions. Their pregnancies occurred before the 1979 Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which barred companies from treating pregnancy leaves differently from other disability leaves.
AT&T lawyers said their pension plan was legal when the women took pregnancy leave, so they shouldn't have to recalculate their retirement benefits now. Congress did not make the Pregnancy Discrimination Act retroactive, they said, so the women should not get any extra money.
A majority of the justices agreed. .
Rae T. Vann, lawyer for the Equal Employment Advisory Council, called the decision "sensible.."
Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer dissented. By making it illegal to discriminate against women on pregnancy leave, "Congress intended no continuing reduction of women's compensation, pension benefits included, attributable to their placement on pregnancy leave," said Ginsburg.