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COMMUNICATIONS WORKERS v. AT&T

July 30, 1974

COMMUNICATIONS WORKERS OF AMERICA, AFL-CIO; ESTHER SKIPPER, Individually and on Behalf of All Similarly Situated Non-Supervisory Female Employees of American Telephone and Telegraph Company, Long Lines Department, Plaintiffs,
v.
AMERICAN TELEPHONE AND TELEGRAPH COMPANY, LONG LINES DEPARTMENT, Defendants. WOMEN IN CITY GOVERNMENT UNITED, et al., Plaintiffs, v. THE CITY OF NEW YORK, et al., Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: KNAPP

KNAPP, D.J.

 The complaints in these unrelated class actions make quite similar allegations. They each allege inter alia that the several defendants have, in the treatment of pregnant employees, violated the proscription against discrimination on the basis of sex contained in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

 Paragraph 7 of the CWA complaint alleges in part:

 
"the defendant has promulgated and maintained policies * * * which limit the employment opportunities of its female employees because of sex by failing and refusing to provide equal rights, benefits and privileges to females under temporary disability due to pregnancy or childbirth or complications arising therefrom, as are made available to its male employees under temporary disability."

 Paragraph 51 of the WICGU complaint (plaintiffs' first cause of action) alleges:

 
"Defendants * * * have * * * discriminated against the plaintiffs in this action in the terms and conditions of employment because of sex, in that the health and hospitalization insurance plans negotiated and approved by defendant * * * offer substantially fewer benefits for pregnancy and pregnancy-related conditions than for other medical and surgical problems requiring hospital and medical care."

 The remaining ten causes of action alleged in the WICGU complaint may fairly be characterized as variations on the theme of paragraph 51, the differences being in the particular defendant named and the type of policy attacked -- health and hospitalization insurance or disability benefit.

 Motions were argued before me in both cases on May 21, 1974. In CWA the motions concerned class action treatment. In WICGU the major motion had to do with exhaustion of Title VII remedies.

 While those motions were sub judice, the Supreme Court decided Geduldig v. Aiello, 417 U.S. 484, 94 S. Ct. 2485, 41 L. Ed. 2d 256. We then scheduled argument as to whether in light of Aiello -- especially footnote 20 of the opinion -- this court should sua sponte dismiss the complaints in these actions. Having received briefs and heard argument, we so dismiss the complaints with leave to replead, and certify a question to the Court of Appeals.

 In Aiello the Supreme Court held that California's disability insurance plan which excludes normal pregnancy from coverage does not violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Thus, inter alia, the Court observed 417 U.S. at 494, 94 S. Ct. at 2491:

 
"We cannot agree that the exclusion of this disability from coverage amounts to invidious discrimination under the Equal Protection Clause. California does not discriminate with respect to the persons or groups who are eligible for disability insurance protection under the program."

 The Court found legitimate and "wholly non-invidious" California's reasons for not wanting a more comprehensive program -- the state's desire to keep the contribution rate low, to keep the program self-supporting, and to provide adequate benefits for some disabilities rather than inadequate benefits for all (id.). The Court further found "no evidence in the record that the selection of the risks insured by the program worked to discriminate against any definable group or class * * *." (id.)

 The footnote (footnote 20) to the sentence just quoted provides -- in our view -- the key to the Court's decision. It flatly states that distinctions involving pregnancy do not constitute discrimination because of sex (or gender). In the first paragraph of that footnote the Court, in answer to arguments presented by the dissenting justices, observed:

 
"The dissenting opinion to the contrary, this case is thus a far cry from cases like Reed v. Reed, 404 U.S. 71, 30 L. Ed. 2d 225, 92 S. Ct. 251, and Frontiero v. Richardson, 411 U.S. 677, 36 L. Ed. 2d 583, 93 S. Ct. 1764, involving discrimination based upon gender as such. The California insurance program does not exclude anyone from benefit eligibility because of gender but merely removes one physical condition -- pregnancy -- from the list of compensable disabilities. While it is true that only women can become pregnant, it does not follow that every legislative classification concerning pregnancy is a sex-based classification like those considered in Reed, supra, and Frontiero, supra. Normal pregnancy is an objectively identifiable physical condition with unique characteristics. Absent a showing that distinctions involving pregnancy are mere pretext designed to effect an invidious discrimination against ...

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