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Communications Workers of America v. American Telephone and Telegraph Co.

decided: March 26, 1975.

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-APPELLANTS,
v.
AMERICAN TELEPHONE AND TELEGRAPH COMPANY, LONG LINES DEPARTMENT, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE



Interlocutory appeal from an order of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Whitman Knapp, J.), which dismissed the complaint in the action with leave to replead and certified a question to this court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1292(b). Certified question answered in the negative, order dismissing complaint reversed and action remanded.

Feinberg and Mulligan, Circuit Judges, and Bryan, District Judge.*fn*

Author: Bryan

BRYAN, District Judge:

This is an interlocutory appeal pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1292(b) from an order of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Whitman Knapp, J.) which dismissed the complaint in this action with leave to replead and certified a question to this Court. This Court has allowed the appeal on the question so certified.

The suit, commenced on July 31, 1973, is a class action brought by plaintiffs-appellants Communications Workers of America, AFL-CIO (CWA) and Esther Skipper, under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended by the Equal Employment Opportunity Act of 1972, 42 U.S.C. § 2000-e et seq.*fn1 The complaint alleges that the Long Lines Department of defendant-appellee American Telephone & Telegraph Company (Long Lines) violated Title VII, which prohibits discrimination in employment or between employees on the basis of sex.

The allegations of the complaint as to specific policies and practices of Long Lines claimed to be violative of Title VII are obviously based on guidelines issued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which is the federal agency charged with enforcement of the Act. These guidelines were designed to prohibit disparity of treatment between pregnancy and other disabilities in the employment context. See 29 C.F.R. 1604.10(b).*fn2 The complaint alleges that Long Lines "has promulgated and maintained policies, practices, customs and usages 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. [Long Lines'] discriminatory practices and policies involve matters such as the commencement and duration of leave, the availability of extensions, the accrual of seniority and other benefits and privileges, reinstatement, and payments under health or disability insurance or sick leave plans. . . ."

Declaratory, injunctive and monetary relief is sought on behalf of all non-supervisory female employees and former female employees of Long Lines, who have been or may be affected by the policies and practices complained of.*fn3

The answer admits that under the Long Lines disability benefit plans, sickness and disability benefits are not paid in connection with absences arising on account of "certain conditions attendant to pregnancy, childbirth, or child rearing," but denies that Long Lines' policies and practices constitute sex discrimination in violation of Title VII. The answer includes, among other defenses, a separate defense that any alleged discrimination on the basis of sex arising from failure to include absences relating to pregnancy, childbirth or child rearing in Long Lines' disability plans "is based upon a rational and neutral business justification" under Title VII.*fn4

Prior to the dismissal of the complaint below, both sides had conducted a substantial amount of pre-trial discovery. Discovery had not been completed, however, and as yet no depositions have been taken. A motion concerning class action treatment was pending before the district court.

On June 17, 1974, while that motion was sub judice, the Supreme Court decided Geduldig v. Aiello, 417 U.S. 484, 41 L. Ed. 2d 256, 94 S. Ct. 2485 (1974), holding that the provisions of a California statutory state-administered system of disability insurance for private employees which excluded from coverage disabilities arising from normal pregnancy did not violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

The district court, in the case at bar, then requested briefs and heard argument on the question of whether the complaint under Title VII should not be dismissed sua sponte in the light of Aiello.

The opinion of the district court which followed read the majority opinion in Aiello, and particularly footnote 20 of that opinion (417 U.S. at 496), as "flatly" holding that disparity of treatment between pregnancy-related and other disabilities cannot be classified as sex discrimination under either the Equal Protection Clause or Title VII, absent a showing that such disparity was a mere pretext designed to effect invidious discrimination against the female sex. It concluded that Aiello was decisive of the issues raised by the complaint in this case and that therefore as a matter of law the complaint failed to state a claim on which relief could be granted under Title VII.*fn5 The district court dismissed the complaint solely on that ground, with leave to replead,*fn6 and certified the following question to this court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1292(b):*fn7

". . . whether Aiello has established -- for purposes of [this action] -- that disparity between the treatment of pregnancy-related and other disabilities does not of itself constitute discrimination on the basis of sex (or gender) within the prohibition either of Title VII or of the Fourteenth Amendment."*fn8

We think that the question certified does not adequately pose the issue on this appeal. In essence, what the court below held was that Aiello established that the disparity of treatment of pregnancy-related disabilities alleged in the complaint cannot constitute discrimination under Title VII unless it is alleged and proved to be a mere pretext designed to effect invidious discrimination against the female sex. The real question posed here is whether Aiello required dismissal of the complaint in this action as a matter of law for failure to ...


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