Pregnancy Related Disabilities Exclusion from Employer Insurance Plan

In General Electric Co. v. Gilbert (1976) 429 U.S. 125 97 S. Ct. 401, 50 L. Ed. 2d 343, the defendant employer's disability plan excluded plaintiffs' pregnancy-related disabilities from coverage. Section 703(a)(1) of title VII (42 U.S.C. 2000e-2(a)(1)) made it an unlawful employment practice for an employer "to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin." Gilbert held that excluding pregnancy from a disability-benefits plan providing general coverage was not gender-based discrimination, where there was no showing that the exclusion of pregnancy benefits was a pretext designed to effect invidious discrimination against members of one sex or the other. (Gilbert, supra. 429 U.S. at p. 136 97 S. Ct. at p. 408.) Applying the reasoning of Geduldig, the Gilbert opinion stated: "As there is no proof that the package is in fact worth more to men than to women, it is impossible to find any gender-based discriminatory effect in this scheme simply because women disabled as a result of pregnancy do not receive benefits; that is to say, gender-based discrimination does not result simply because an employer's disability-benefits plan is less than all-inclusive. . . . Pregnancy-related disabilities constitute an additional risk, unique to women, and the failure to compensate them for this risk does not destroy the presumed parity of the benefits, accruing to men and women alike, which results from the facially evenhanded inclusion of risks." (Gilbert, supra, 429 U.S. at pp. 138-139 97 S. Ct. at pp. 409-410.) The United States Congress responded to Gilbert by enacting the Pregnancy Discrimination Act in 1978, which amended title VII to specifically include pregnancy as a prohibited basis of discrimination "because of sex" or "on the basis of sex." (Newport News Shipbuilding & Dry Dock v. EEOC (1983) 462 U.S. 669, 678 103 S. Ct. 2622, 2628, 77 L. Ed. 2d 89.) This amendment broadened the scope of title VII protection. But it did so only with respect to the " 'compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment.' " (Newport News Shipbuilding, supra, 462 U.S. at p. 682 103 S. Ct. at p. 2630.)