430 U.S. 313 (1977), 76-457, Califano v. Webster

Docket Nº:No. 76-457
Citation:430 U.S. 313, 97 S.Ct. 1192, 51 L.Ed.2d 360
Party Name:Califano v. Webster
Case Date:March 21, 1977
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 313

430 U.S. 313 (1977)

97 S.Ct. 1192, 51 L.Ed.2d 360

Califano

v.

Webster

No. 76-457

United States Supreme Court

March 21, 1977

ON APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK

Syllabus

Under § 215 of the Social Security Act, old-age benefits are computed on the basis of a wage earner's "average monthly wage" earned during his "benefit computation years" which are the "elapsed years" (reduced by five) during which his covered wages were highest. Until 1972, when the statute was amended to eliminate the distinction, "elapsed years" depended upon the wage earner's sex. Section 215(b)(3) prescribed that the number of "elapsed years" for a male wage earner would be three higher than for an otherwise similarly situated female wage earner; for a male, the number of "elapsed years" equaled the number of years that elapsed after 1950 and before the year in which he became 65, whereas, for a female, the number of "elapsed years" equaled the number of years that elapsed after 1950 and before the year in which she became 62. Accordingly, a female could exclude from the computation of her "average monthly wage" three more lower earning years than a similarly situated male could exclude, and this would result in a slightly higher "average monthly wage" and correspondingly higher monthly old-age benefits for the retired female wage earner. On review of a denial of the request of appellee male wage earner (to whom the 1972 amendment did not apply because he reached age 62 before its effective date) that the more favorable formula be used to compute his old-age benefits, the District Court held that the statutory scheme violated the equal protection component of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment on the grounds that (1) to give women who reached age 62 before 1975 greater benefits than men of the same age and earnings record was irrational, and (2) in any event, the 1972 amendment was to be construed to apply retroactively, because otherwise it would be irrational.

Held:

1. "[C]lassifications by gender must serve important governmental objectives and must be substantially related to the achievement of those objectives," Craig v. Boren, 429 U.S. 190, 197.

2. The statutory scheme itself, and the legislative history of former § 215(b)(3), demonstrate that the statute was deliberately enacted to "redres[s] our society's longstanding disparate treatment of women,"

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Califano v. Goldfarb, ante at 209 n. 8, and was not "the accidental byproduct of a traditional way of thinking about females." Ante at 223 (STEVENS, J., concurring in judgment). The statute operated directly to compensate women for past economic discrimination by allowing them to eliminate additional low-earning years from the calculation of their retirement benefits, and in no way penalized women wage earners.

3. The failure to make the 1972 amendment retroactive does not constitute discrimination on the basis of date of birth. Old-age benefits are not constitutionally immunized against alterations of this kind, but Congress may replace one constitutional computation formula with another, and make the new formula prospective only.

413 F.Supp. 127, reversed.

Per curiam opinion.

PER CURIAM.

Under § 215 of the Social Security Act, as added, 64 Stat. 506, and amended, 42 U.S.C. § 415 (1970 ed. and Supp. V), old-age insurance benefits are computed on the basis of the wage earner's "average monthly wage" earned during his "benefit computation years" which are the "elapsed years" (reduced by five) during which the wage earner's covered wages were highest. Until a 1972 amendment, "elapsed years" depended upon the sex of the wage earner. Section 215(b)(3) prescribed that the number of "elapsed years" for a male wage earner would be three higher than for an otherwise similarly situated female wage earner; for a male, the number of "elapsed years" equaled the number of years that elapsed after 1950 and before the year in which he attained age 65; for a female, the number of "elapsed years" equaled the number of years that elapsed after 1950 and before the year in which she attained age 62.1 Thus, a [97 S.Ct. 1194] male born in 1900

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would have 14 "elapsed years" on retirement at age 65, but a female born in the same year would have only 11.2 Accordingly, a female wage earner could exclude from the computation

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of her "average monthly wage" three more lower earning years than a similarly situated male wage earner could exclude. This would result in a slightly higher "average monthly wage" and a correspondingly higher level of monthly old-age benefits for the retired female wage earner.3 A single-judge District Court for the Eastern District of New York, on review under § 205(g) of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), of a denial, after hearing, of appellee's request that the more favorable formula be used to compute his benefits, held that, on two grounds, the statutory scheme violated the equal protection component of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment: (1) that to give women who reached age 62 before 1975 greater benefits than men of the same age and earnings record was irrational,4 and (2) that, in any event, the 1972 amendment was to be construed to apply retroactively, because construing the amendment to give men who reach age 62 in 1975 or later the benefit of the 1972 amendments but to deny older men the same benefit would render the...

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