Fighting for Women's Equality

Pregnancy Discrimination Lawsuit Filed Against AT&T

March 20, 2001 | by
San Francisco — March 20, 2001 — A class action lawsuit was filed today by several individuals and the Communications Workers of America, AFL-CIO (CWA) challenging discriminatory employment benefit practices at AT&T. In Hulteen, et al. v. AT&T, et al., Case No. C 01 1122 EDL (N.Dist. Cal.), plaintiffs argue that AT&T’s benefit calculation policies violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) and the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) by treating pregnancy-related leave taken by female employees prior to April, 1979 less favorably than leaves taken by other employees who were disabled for any other reason during the same time period. The class may include an estimated 15,000 women employed at AT&T and its various subsidiaries who took pregnancy-related disability leave before April 29, 1979.

Prior to the April 29, 1979 implementation of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), employees of AT&T and its subsidiaries who suffered from temporarily disabling conditions were given “service credit” for their disability-related absences from work while pregnant women were not. Instead, pregnant women were forced to take “personal leaves” for their disability-related absences for which they were not given service credit. As a result of such lost credit, thousands of female AT&T workers have been excluded from lucrative early retirement opportunities or given lower pension benefits while co-workers who were absent from work for the same amount of time due to other medical disabilities experienced no such losses. After April, 1979, when the PDA became law, such practices were outlawed. AT&T changed its policies for new employees, but continues to deduct pregnancy-related leave time taken before 1979 when calculating pension and retirement benefits.

AT&T’s benefit calculation policies at issue in the lawsuit violate Title VII legal guidelines issued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). In 1998, the EEOC concluded that AT&T’s policies did not comply with the law. In the 1991 case Pallas v. Pacific Bell, 940 F.2d 1324 (9th Cir. 1991), cert. denied, 502 U.S. 1050 (1992), the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that Pacific Bell—a former AT&T subsidiary company—had violated Title VII and ERISA by using similar pension calculation policies to deny early retirement offers to female employees who had taken pregnancy leaves before April, 1979. The Pallas case was resolved in 1998 with a multi-million dollar settlement that included pension adjustments for thousands of women affected by the policies. Despite these rulings, however, AT&T has continued to exclude pregnancy-related disability leave taken prior to April, 1979 in calculating pension benefits for its female employees.

Each of the individual plaintiffs experienced losses as a result of AT&T’s actions. Plaintiff Noreen Hulteen began working for an AT&T subsidiary company in 1965. In 1968, her employer forced her to take personal leave for her pregnancy and disabilities that occurred while she was on leave. Due to this policy, Hulteen was denied eight months of service credit toward her pension and related benefits. Since retiring in 1994, Hulteen’s pension checks have been reduced by the amount of the lost leave time due to her pregnancy. Likewise, plaintiffs Eleanora Collet, Arma Horton, and Betty Snyder each were denied service credit for pregnancy-related disability leaves taken prior to 1979, which has decreased their pension benefits.

The individual plaintiffs are represented by Equal Rights Advocates and cooperating counsel Judith E. Kurtz, and the law firms of Van Bourg, Weinberg, Roger & Rosenfeld, and Erickson, Beasley, Hewitt & Wilson. The CWA, which represents non-management employees at AT&T, is represented by attorney Mary K. O’Melveny.

All of the counsel for plaintiffs and the CWA were involved in the Pallas case against Pacific Bell. In addition, the CWA has been a party to several lawsuits against former AT&T subsidiaries seeking relief for victims of discriminatory benefit calculation policies outlawed by the PDA. Describing the current lawsuit, CWA attorney O’Melveny said: “It is time that AT&T finally took responsibility for its ongoing discrimination against women who were pregnant in the 1960s and 1970s.”

The plaintiffs’ claims include damages and injunctive relief based on Title VII, 42 U.S.C. Sec. 2000e et seq., and ERISA, 29 U.S.C. Sec.1001 et seq.

 

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