Brief Fact Summary. Title VII as amended by the PDA prohibits discrimination on the basis of pregnancy. Petitioner brought suit claiming that a California law requiring employers to make a good faith effort to rehire workers after maternity leave treated pregnant workers disproportionately to other workers and was pre-empted by the federal law.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. A state law may provide more protection than a similar federal law so long as the state law is not inconsistent with the purposes of the federal law.
Points of Law - Legal Principles in this Case for Law Students.
In two sections of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, §§ 708 and 1104, Congress has indicated that state laws will be pre-empted only if they actually conflict with federal law.
Facts. California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) prohibited discrimination in employment and housing. California amended the statute to proscribe certain types of employment discrimination based on pregnancy. Subdivision (b)(2) applied to employers subject to Title VII and required them to provide female employees unpaid pregnancy disability leave for up to four months. Respondent Fair Employment and Housing Commission is authorized to interpret the FEHA, and interpreted it to require California employers to reinstate an employee returning from the pregnancy leave to the job previously held unless the position is no longer available due to business necessity. If it is no longer available, the employer must make a reasonable, good faith effort to place the employee in a substantially similar job.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 also prohibits employment discrimination based on sex, but previous case law (General Electric Co. v. Gilbert, 429 U.S. 125 (1976)) determined that discrimination based on pregnancy was not sex discrimination under Title VII. In response to Gilbert, Congress passed the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 (PDA), which specified that sex discrimination includes discrimination on the basis of pregnancy.
Petitioner California Federal Savings and Load Association is an employer covered by Title VII. Petitioner has a facially neutral leave policy that permits employees who have completed three months of service to take unpaid leaves of absence for reasons including pregnancy. Petitioner tries to provide employees taking a leave of absence with a similar position upon returning, but reserves the right to terminate an employee if a similar position is not available. Lillian Garland was employed by Petitioner and took a pregnancy disability leave. Upon returning she found her job had been filled and there where no similar positions available. She filed a complaint with the Fair Employment and Housing Commission. Petitioner brought this action seeking a declaration that the Cal. Statute is inconsistent with and pre-empted by Title VII and an injunction against enforcement. The district court granted Petitioner’s motion for summary judgment, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed
Issue. Does Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, pre-empt a state statute that requires employers to provide leave and reinstatement to employees disabled by pregnancy.
Held. The California statute is not inconsistent with the purposes of the federal statute, therefore it is valid.
Petitioners argue that the language of the federal statute on its face unambiguously rejects California’s special treatment of pregnant women because the second clause of the PDA forbids an employer to treat pregnant employees differently than non-pregnant ones. However, it is clear that Congress passed the PDA statute to overrule the holding in Gilbert. The reports, debates and hearings in Congress make it that it intended the PDA to end discrimination against pregnant workers.
Petitioners cite legislative history to the effect that the PDA does not require employers to extend any benefits to pregnant women that the do not already provide to other disabled employees. However, Congress would not have extensively discussed only the intent not to require preferential treatment if it had intended to prohibit such treatment. Also significant is the fact that Congress was aware of state laws similar to this statute but apparently did not consider them inconsistent.
Dissent. Justice White. The second clause of the PDA mandates that pregnant employees be treated the same, it leaves no room for preferential treatment of pregnant workers.
Discussion. The majority found that Title VII as amended by the PDA created a base requirement that pregnant workers be treated equally as other workers are treated. They found that the California statute was an acceptable expansion of a pregnant worker’s rights not inconsistent with the purposes of the federal statute.