462 U.S. 669 (1983), 82-411, Newport News Shipbuilding And Dry Dock Co. v. E.e.o.c.

Docket Nº:No. 82-411.
Citation:462 U.S. 669, 103 S.Ct. 2622, 77 L.Ed.2d 89
Case Date:June 20, 1983
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 669

462 U.S. 669 (1983)

103 S.Ct. 2622, 77 L.Ed.2d 89




No. 82-411.

United States Supreme Court.

June 20, 1983

Argued April 27, 1983.

[103 S.Ct. 2623] Syllabus[*]


Section 703(a)(1) of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes it an unlawful employment practice for an employer to discriminate against an employee with respect to compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of the employee's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Title VII was amended in 1978 by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act to prohibit discrimination on the basis of pregnancy. Petitioner employer then amended its health insurance plan to provide its female employees with hospitalization benefits for pregnancy-related conditions to the same extent as for other medical conditions, but the plan provided less extensive pregnancy benefits for spouses of male employees. Petitioner [103 S.Ct. 2624] filed an action in Federal District Court challenging the EEOC's guidelines which indicated that the amended plan was unlawful, and the EEOC in turn filed an action against petitioner alleging discrimination on the basis of sex against male employees in petitioner's provision of hospitalization benefits. The District Court upheld the lawfulness of petitioner's amended plan and dismissed the EEOC's complaint. On a consolidated appeal, the Court of Appeals reversed.

Held: The pregnancy limitation in petitioner's amended health plan discriminates against male employees in violation of § 703(a)(1). Pp. 2627-2631.

(a) Congress, by enacting the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, not only overturned the holding of General Electric Co. v. Gilbert, 429 U.S. 125, 97 S.Ct. 401, 50 L.Ed.2d 343, that the exclusion of disabilities caused by pregnancy from an employer's disability plan providing general coverage did not constitute discrimination based on sex, but also rejected the reasoning employed in that case, that differential treatment of pregnancy is not gender-based discrimination because only women can become pregnant. Pp. 2627-2630.

(b) The Pregnancy Discrimination Act makes it clear that it is discriminatory to exclude pregnancy coverage from an otherwise inclusive benefits plan. Thus, petitioner's health plan unlawfully gives married male employees a benefit package for their dependents that is less inclusive than the dependency coverage provided to married female employees. Pp. 2630-2631.

(c) There is no merit to petitioner's argument that the prohibitions of Title VII do not extend to pregnant spouses because the statute applies only to discrimination in employment. Since the Pregnancy Discrimination

Page 670

Act makes it clear that discrimination based on pregnancy is, on its face, discrimination based on sex, and since the spouse's sex is always opposite of the employee's sex, discrimination against female spouses in the provision of fringe benefits is also discrimination against male employees. P. 2631.

682 F.2d 113, affirmed.


Andrew M. Kramer argued the cause for petitioner. With him on the briefs wereGerald D. Skoning and Deborah Crandall.

Harriet S. Shapiro argued the cause for respondent. With her on the brief were Solicitor General Lee, Deputy Solicitor General Wallace, Philip B. Sklover, and Vella M. Fink.* Briefs of amici curiae urging reversal were filed by Stephen A. Bokat and Cynthia Wicker for the Chamber of Commerce of the United States; by Frederick T. Shea, Robert H. McRoberts, Sr., John F. Gibbons, and Thomas C. Walsh for Emerson Electric Co.; by Benjamin W. Boley and Michael S. Giannotto for the National Railway Labor Conference; and byRobert E. Williams, Douglas S. McDowell, and Lorence L. Kessler for the Equal Employment Advisory Council.

Briefs of amici curiae urging affirmance were filed by Lawrence B. Trygstad and Richard J. Schwab for the United Teachers-Los Angeles; by Judith L. Lichtman and Judith E. Schaeffer for the American Association of University Women et al.; and by J. Albert Woll, Marsha S. Berzon, Laurence Gold, Bernard Kleiman, Carl Frankel, Carole W. Wilson, and Winn Newman for the American Frederation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations et al.

Andrew M. Kramer, Washington, D.C., for petitioner.

Harriet S. Shapiro, Washington, D.C., for respondent.


Justice STEVENS delivered the opinion of the Court.

In 1978 Congress decided to overrule our decision in General Electric Co. v. Gilbert, 429 U.S. 125, 97 S.Ct. 401, 50 L.Ed.2d 343 (1976), by amending Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 "to prohibit sex discrimination on the basis of pregnancy." 1 On the effective

Page 671

date of the act, petitioner amended its health insurance plan to provide its female employees with hospitalization benefits for pregnancy-related conditions to the same extent as for other medical conditions. 2 The plan continued, however, to provide less favorable pregnancy benefits for spouses of male employees. The question presented is whether the amended plan complies with the amended statute.

[103 S.Ct. 2625] Petitioner's plan provides hospitalization and medical-surgical coverage for a defined category of employees3 and a defined category of dependents. Dependents covered by the plan include employees' spouses, unmarried children between 14 days and 19 years of age, and some older dependent children. 4 Prior to April 29, 1979, the scope of the plan's coverage for eligible dependents was identical to its coverage for employees. 5 All covered males, whether employees or

Page 672

dependents, were treated alike for purposes of hospitalization coverage. All covered females, whether employees or dependents, also were treated alike. Moreover, with one relevant exception, the coverage for males and females was identical. The exception was a limitation on hospital coverage for pregnancy that did not apply to any other hospital confinement. 6

After the plan was amended in 1979, it provided the same hospitalization coverage for male and female employees themselves for all medical conditions, but it differentiated between female employees and spouses of male employees in its provision of pregnancy-related benefits. 7 In a booklet describing the plan, petitioner explained the amendment that gave rise to this litigation in this way:

"B. Effective April 29, 1979, maternity benefits for female employees will be paid the same as any other hospital confinement as described in question 16. This applies only to deliveries beginning on April 29, 1979 and thereafter.

"C. Maternity benefits for the wife of a male employee will continue to be paid as described in part 'A' of this question." App. to Pet. for Cert. 37a.

Page 673

In turn, Part A stated, "The Basic Plan pays up to $500 of the hospital charges and 100% of reasonable and customary for delivery and anesthesiologist charges." Ibid. As the Court of Appeals observed, "To the extent that the hospital charges in connection with an uncomplicated delivery may exceed $500, therefore, a male employee receives less complete coverage of spousal disabilities than does a female employee." 667 F.2d 448, 449 (CA4 1982).

After the passage of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, and before the amendment to petitioner's plan became effective, the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission issued "interpretive guidelines" in the form of questions and answers. 8 Two of [103 S.Ct. 2626] those questions, numbers 21 and 22, made it clear that the EEOC would consider petitioner's amended plan unlawful. Number 21 read as follows:

"21. Q. Must an employer provide health insurance coverage for the medical expenses of pregnancy-related conditions of the spouses of male employees? Of the dependents of all employees?

"A. Where an employer provides no coverage for dependents, the employer is not required to institute such coverage. However, if an employer's insurance program covers the medical expenses of spouses of female employees, then it must equally cover the medical expenses of spouses of male employees, including those arising from pregnancy-related conditions.

But the insurance does not have to cover the pregnancy-related conditions of non-spouse dependents as long as it excludes the pregnancy-related conditions of

Page 674

such non-spouse dependents of male and female employees equally." 44 Fed.Reg. 23804, 23807 (April 20, 1979). 9

On September 20, 1979, one of petitioner's male employees filed a charge with the EEOC alleging that petitioner had unlawfully refused to provide full insurance coverage for his wife's hospitalization caused by pregnancy; a month later the United Steelworkers filed a similar charge on behalf of other individuals. App. 15-18. Petitioner then commenced an action in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, challenging the Commission's guidelines and seeking both declaratory and injunctive relief. The complaint named the EEOC, the male employee, and the United Steelworkers of America as defendants. App. 5-14. Later the EEOC filed a civil action against petitioner alleging discrimination on the basis of sex against male employees in the company's provision of hospitalization benefits. App. 28-31. Concluding that the benefits of the new Act extended only to female employees, and not to spouses of male employees, the District Court held that petitioner's plan was lawful and enjoined enforcement of the EEOC guidelines relating to pregnancy benefits for employees' spouses. 510

Page 675

F.Supp. 66 (1981). It also dismissed the EEOC's complaint. App. to Pet. for Cert. 21a. The two cases were consolidated on appeal.

A divided panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit reversed, reasoning that since "the company's health insurance plan contains a distinction based on pregnancy that results in less complete medical coverage...

To continue reading