Shaw v. Delta Air Lines, Inc. et al.
Decided on June 24, 1983; 463 US 85

Dispute over whether or not state laws on human rights and employment preempt
the Federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974


A. Issues Discussed: Governmental Authority (regulation), 9th Amendment 

B. Legal Question Presented:

Was the New York State Human Rights Law that forbids discrimination in employment, including discrimination in employee benefit plans on the basis of pregnancy, and was New York's State Disability Benefits Law that required employers to pay sick leave benefits to employees unable to work because of pregnancy or other non occupational disabilities, preempted by the Federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) of 1974?

A. Background:

Appellees Delta Air Lines, Inc., and other airlines, Burroughs Corporation and Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, provided their employees with various medical and disability benefits through welfare plans subject to the Federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). These plans, prior to the effective date of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1974 (PDA), did not provide benefits to employees disabled by pregnancy as required by the New York Human Rights Law and the State's Disability Benefits Law.

Appellees brought three separate federal declaratory judgment actions against Appellants New York State Division of Human right agencies and officials in the Federal District Court, alleging that the New York's Human Rights Law and the State’s Disability Benefits Law were pre-empted by ERISA.

The District Court held that the state's Human Rights Law was pre-empted, at least as in so far it required the provision of pregnancy benefits prior to the effective date of  the PDA. However, because it concluded that the Airlines would have provided pregnancy benefits solely to comply with the Disability Benefits Law, the court dismissed the portion of appellees' complaint seeking relief from law.

Later, the Court of Appeals affirmed as to the preemption of the Human Rights Law. With respect to the New York's Disability Benefits Law, the Court of Appeals held that the ERISA exemption from pre-emption applied when a benefit plan is maintained solely to comply with the disability law. The Court of Appeals remanded for a determination whether appellee airlines provided benefits through such plans, in which event the Disability Benefits Law would be enforceable, or through portions of comprehensive plans, in which case ERISA regulation would be exclusive.

Appellants appealed the ruling directly to the US Supreme Court and the high court accepted the case for review.
B. Counsel of Record:
Opposing Side
Deborah Bachrach, Assistant Attorney General of New York, argued the cause for appellants. With her on the briefs were Robert Abrams, Attorney General, and Peter Bienstock, Robert Hermann, Peter H. Schiff, and Daniel Berger, Assistant Attorneys General.
Gordon Dean Booth, Jr., argued the cause for appellees. With him on the brief for appellees Delta Air Lines, Inc., et al. was William H. Boice. Robert C. Bernius, William E. McKnight, and Robb M. Jones filed a brief for appellee Burroughs Corp. Edward Silver, Sara S. Portnoy, and Jeffrey A. Mishkin filed a brief for appellee Metropolitan Life Insurance Co.
C. The Arguments:
Opposing Side
Unavailable Unavailable
Opposing Side
Briefs of amici curiae urging reversal were filed by LeRoy S. Zimmerman, Attorney General and Ellen M. Doyle for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania et al.; by Mary L. Heen, Joan E. Bertin, and Isabelle Katz Pinzler for the American Civil Liberties Union et al.; and by J. Albert Woll, Marsha Berzon, Laurence Gold and John Fillion for the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organization et al. Briefs of amici curiae urging affirmance were filed by Solicitor General Lee, Stuart A. Smith, T. Timothy Ryan, Jr., Kerry L. Adams and John A. Bryson for the United States; by Eugene B. Granof and by George J. Pantos for the ERISA Industry Committee et al.; and by Walter P. DeForest and Stuart I. Saltman for Westinghouse Electric Corp.

"State may not require an employer to alter its ERISA plan, it may force the employer to choose between providing disability benefits in a separately administered plan and including the state-mandated benefits in its ERISA plan. If the State is not satisfied that the ERISA plan comports with the requirements of its disability insurance law, it may compel the employer to maintain a separate plan that does comply. The Court of Appeals erred, therefore, in holding that appellants are not at all free to enforce the Disability Benefits Law against those appellees that provide disability benefits as part of multibenefit plans.

We hold that New York's Human Rights Law is preempted with respect to ERISA benefit plans only insofar as it prohibits practices that are lawful under federal law. To this extent, the judgments of the Court of Appeals are affirmed. To the extent the Court of Appeals held any more of the Human Rights Law pre-empted, we vacate its judgments and remand the cases.

We further hold that the Disability Benefits Law is not pre-empted by ERISA, although New York may not enforce its provisions through regulation of ERISA covered benefit plans. We therefore vacate the Court of Appeals' judgment in the Airlines' case on this ground and remand that case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion."

Held: Judgments vacated. Case remanded for further proceedings consistent with the Supreme Court opinion.
Justice Vote: 9 Pro vs. 0 Con

  • Blackmun, H.  Pro  (Wrote majority opinion)
  • Burger, W. Pro  (Voted with the majority)
  • Brennan, W.  Pro  (Voted with the majority)
  • White, B.  Pro  (Voted with the majority)
  • Marshall, T.  Pro  (Voted with the majority)
  • Powell, L.  Pro  (Voted with the majority)
  • Rehnquist, W.  Pro  (Voted with the majority)
  • Stevens, J.  Pro  (Voted with the majority)
  • O’Connor, S.  Pro  (Voted with the majority)

The ACLU filed as amicus urging reversal; the US Supreme Court vacated and remanded the ruling of the lower court's ruling in a 9-0 vote, giving the ACLU an apparent win.