Cleveland Board of Education v. Lafleur
Decided on Jan. 21, 1974; 414 U.S. 632


Pregnant school teachers challenge the constitutionality of mandatory
maternity leave rules of two County School Boards.

I. ISSUES II. CASE SUMMARY III. AMICI CURIAE IV. DECISION V. WIN OR LOSS?
I. ISSUES

A. Issues Discussed: Civil Rights (Gender), Fourteenth Amendment

B. Legal Question Presented:

Did the mandatory termination provisions of the Cleveland and Chesterfield County School Boards maternity regulations violate the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment?

II. CASE SUMMARY

A. Background

Jo Carol LaFleur and Ann Elizabeth Nelson, respondents in case no. 72-777, were junior high school teachers employed by the Board of Education of Cleveland, Ohio. The petitioner in case no. 72-1129, Susan Cohen, was a schoolteacher employed by the School Board of Chesterfield County, Virginia.

During the school year, the women informed their local school board that they were pregnant. All three were compelled by a mandatory maternity leave rule to quit their jobs without pay several months before their expected deliveries.

In both cases, the pregnant public school teachers brought these actions under Civil action for deprivation of rights challenging the constitutionality of mandatory maternity leave rules of the Cleveland and Chesterfield County School Boards.

The Cleveland rule required a pregnant school teacher to take unpaid maternity leave five months before the expected childbirth, with leave application to be made at least two weeks before her departure. The Chesterfield County rule required the teacher to leave work at least four months, and to give notice at least six months, before the anticipated childbirth.

In case no. 72-777, the District Court rejected the plaintiffs' arguments and in case no. 72-1129, the District Court held that the school board regulation violated the Equal Protection Clause and granted appropriate relief.

Two Courts of Appeals reversed the District Court's judgment, one holding the Chesterfield County (72-1129) maternity leave rule constitutional, the other holding the Cleveland County (72-777) rule unconstitutional.

Cleveland Board of Education appealed to the US Supreme Court and the high court granted certiorari, consolidating the two earlier cases.
B. Counsel of Record
ACLU Side
(Respondents/Appellees &
Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondents/Appellees &
Petitioner/Appellant)
Jane M. Picker argued the cause for respondents in No. 72-777. Philip J. Hirschkop argued the cause for petitioner in No. 72-1129. With him on the brief was John B. Mann. Charles F. Clarke argued the cause and filed a brief for petitioners in No. 72-777.

With her on the brief were Rita Page Reuss and Sidney Picker, Jr. Samuel W. Hixon III argued the cause for respondents in No. 72-1129. With him on the brief was Frederick T. Gray.

C. The Arguments

ACLU Side
(Respondents/Appellees &
Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondents/Appellees &
Petitioner/Appellant)

Unavailable

Unavailable

III. AMICI CURIAE

ACLU Side
(Respondents/Appellees &
Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondents/Appellees &
Petitioner/Appellant)
Briefs of amici curiae urging reversal in No. 72-1129 and affirmance in No. 72-777 were filed by Solicitor General Bork, Assistant Attorney General Pottinger, Louis F. Claiborne, Joseph T. Eddins and Beatrice Rosenberg for the United States; by David Rubin and Jerry D. Anker for the National Education Assn. et al.; by Winn Newman and Ruth Weyand for the International Union of Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers, AFL-CIO; by Theodore R. Mann, Joseph B. Robison, Sylvia Roberts, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Melvin L. Wulf and John Ligtenberg for the American Civil Liberties Union et al. and by Paul O. H. Pigman for Margaret M. Broussard. Evelle J. Younger, Attorney General, Elizabeth Palmer, Assistant Attorney General, and Joanne Condas, Deputy Attorney General, filed a brief for the California Department of Human Resources Development as amicus curiae.

Andrew J. Ruzicho filed a brief for the International Association of Official Human Rights Agencies as amicus curiae urging affirmance in No. 72-777.


Philip J. Tierney filed a brief for the Maryland Commission on Human Relations as amicus curiae urging reversal in No. 72-1129.
Briefs of amici curiae urging affirmance in No. 72-1129 were filed by Andrew P. Miller, Attorney General and Walter H. Ryland, Assistant Attorney General for the Commonwealth of Virginia, and by Gordon Dean Booth, Jr., Richard S. Maurer, and Sidney F. Davis for Delta Air Lines, Inc.

IV. THE SUPREME COURT'S DECISION:

"Thus, we conclude that the Cleveland return rule, insofar as it embodies the three-month age provision, is wholly arbitrary and irrational, and hence violates the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The age limitation serves no legitimate state interest, and unnecessarily penalizes the female teacher for asserting her right to bear children.

We perceive no such constitutional infirmities in the Chesterfield County rule. In that school system, the teacher becomes eligible for re-employment upon submission of a medical certificate from her physician; return to work is guaranteed no later than the beginning of the next school year following the eligibility determination. The medical certificate is both a reasonable and narrow method of protecting the school board's interest in teacher fitness, while the possible deferring of return until the next school year serves the goal of preserving continuity of instruction. In short, the Chesterfield County rule manages to serve the legitimate state interests here without employing unnecessary presumptions that broadly burden the exercise of protected constitutional liberty.

For the reasons stated, we hold that the mandatory termination provisions of the Cleveland and Chesterfield County maternity regulations violate the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, because of their use of unwarranted conclusive presumptions that seriously burden the exercise of protected constitutional liberty. For similar reasons, we hold the three-month provision of the Cleveland return rule unconstitutional.

Accordingly, the judgment in No. 72-777 is affirmed; the judgment in No. 72-1129 is reversed, and the case is remanded to the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. It is so ordered."  

Justice Vote: 7 Pro vs. 2 Con

  • Stewart, J. Pro (Wrote the majority opinion)
  • White, B. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Blackmun, H. Pro (Voted with the majority)
  • Powell, L. Pro (Wrote concurring opinion)
  • Brennan, W. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Marshall, T. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Douglas, W. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Rehnquist, W. Con (Wrote dissenting opinion)
  • Burger, W. Con (Joined Rehnquist's dissent)
  • V. A WIN OR LOSS FOR THE ACLU?

    The ACLU filed as amicus curiae urging reversal in No. 72-1129 and affirmance in No. 72-777, the US Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeal's judgment in case no. 72-1129 and affirmed their judgment in case no. 72-777, in a 7-2 vote, giving the ACLU an apparent win.