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AT&T Corporation v. Hulteen (07-543) 
Seniority system insulates retirement calculations based on pre-PDA rules that differentiated on the basis of pregnancy (7-2) 
Decided May 15, 2009
[Text of full opinion]

Prior to the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), enacted in 1978, the employer based pension calculations on a seniority system that relied on years of service minus uncredited leave time, giving less retirement credit for pregnancy absences than for medical leave generally. Upon enactment of the PDA in 1978, the employer replaced its old plan with the Anticipated Disability Plan, which provided the same service credit for pregnancy leave as for other disabilities prospectively, but did not make any retroactive adjustments for the pre-PDA personnel policies. Employee Hulteen therefore received less service credit for her pre-PDA pregnancy leave than she would have for general disability leave, resulting in a reduction in her total employment term and, consequently, a smaller pension. The lower courts held that this violated Title VII. 

The US Supreme Court reversed (7-2), holding that an employer does not necessarily violate the PDA when it pays pension benefits calculated in part under an accrual rule, applied only pre-PDA, that gave less retirement credit for pregnancy than for medical leave generally. Because the employer's pension payments accord with a bona fide seniority system's terms, they are insulated from challenge under Title VII §703(h). 

The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 did not apply to this case because the employer's pre-PDA decision not to award Hulteen service credit for pregnancy leave was not discriminatory, with the consequence that Hulteen has not been "affected by application of a discriminatory compensation decision or other practice." 

Case below: Hulteen v. AT&T Corporation  (9th Cir en banc 08/17/2007)  (14-1) 
Official docket sheet 
Certiorari granted June 23, 2008.
Oral argument:  December 10, 2008. [Transcript] The Solicitor General participated in oral argument as amicus curiae supporting Petitioner.

Question presented:  

Before the passage of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 (PDA), it was lawful to award less service credit for pregnancy leaves than for other temporary disability leaves. Gilbert v. Gen. Elec. Co., 429 U.S. 125 (1976). Accordingly, the questions presented are

1. Whether an employer engages in a current violation of Title VII when, in making post-PDA eligibility determinations for pension and other benefits, the employer fails to restore service credit that female employees lost when they took pregnancy leaves under lawful pre-PDA leave policies. 

2. Whether the Ninth Circuit’s finding of a current violation of Title VII in such circumstances gives impermissible retroactive effect to the PDA. 

Certiorari Documents: 

Briefs on the merits: 


  • For Petitioner AT&T Corporation: Carter G. Phillips; Sidley Austin LLP; 1501 K Street, N.W.; Washington, DC  20005; cphillips@sidley.com; (202) 736-8270.  
  • For Respondents Noreen Hulteen, et al.: Judith E. Kurtz; Law Offices of Judith Kurtz; 192 Bocana Street; San Francisco, CA  94110; (415) 826-0244.

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