Geduldig v. Aiello
Decided on June 17, 1974; 417 US 484

Pregnant women argue they have the right to disability insurance benefits


A. Issues Discussed: Civil Rights (Gender),  14th Amendment

B. Legal Question Presented:

Does California's disability insurance program discriminate against women by not paying insurance benefits for disability that accompanies normal pregnancy and childbirth?


A. Background:

The Unemployment Compensation Disability Fund is California's disability insurance system for private employees temporarily disabled from working by an injury or illness not covered by workers' compensation. Under Section 2626 of California's Unemployment Insurance Code, a work loss resulting from certain disabilities attributable to pregnancy is excluded from coverage. 

Appellees were four women who qualified under the insurance program but suffered employment disability as a result of their pregnancies, and were denied benefits under Section 2626.  Appellees challenged the pregnancy exclusion as a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

The United States District Court for the Northern District of California held the statute unconstitutional. The court held that the provision of the disability insurance program violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and therefore banned its continued enforcement.  Appellant, State of California, represented by Geduldig, Director of the Department of Human Resources Development, appealed to the US Supreme Court.
B. Counsel of Record:
Opposing Side
Wendy W. Williams argued the cause for appellees. With her on the briefs were Peter Hart Weiner, Roland C. Davis, and Victor J. Van Bourg.
Joanne Condas, Deputy Attorney General of California, argued the cause for appellant. With her on the briefs were Evelle J. Younger, Attorney General, and Elizabeth Palmer, Assistant Attorney General.
C. The Arguments:
Opposing Side
Unavailable Unavailable  
Opposing Side
Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Melvin L. Wulf filed a brief for the American Civil Liberties Union, as amicus curiae, urging affirmance.

Additional briefs of amici curiae urging affirmance were filed by Joseph T. Eddins and Beatrice Rosenberg for the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission; by J. Albert Woll, Laurence Gold, and Thomas E. Harris for the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organization; by Winn Newman and Ruth Weyand for the International Union of Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers, AFL-CIO-CLC; by Joseph N. Onek for Women's Equity Action League, et al.; and by Harry I. Rand for the Physicians Forum.
Briefs of amici curiae urging reversal were filed by Milton A. Smith, Gerard C. Smetana, Lawrence D. Ehrlich, and Jerry Kronenberg for the Chamber of Commerce of the United States; by Ronald A. Zumbrun and Raymond M. Momboisse for the Pacific Legal Foundation; by Richard D. Godown and Myron G. Hill, Jr., for the National Association of Manufacturers of the United States; by Willard Z. Carr, Jr., for the Merchants and Manufacturers Assn.; by F. Mark Garlinghouse and James D. Hutchinson for the American Telephone and Telegraph Co.; and by Theophil C. Kammholz, Stanley R. Strauss, John S. Battle, Jr., and J. Robert Brame III for the General Electric Co.

"The State has a legitimate interest in maintaining the self-supporting nature of its insurance program. Similarly, it has an interest in distributing the available resources in such a way as to keep benefit payments at an adequate level for disabilities that are covered, rather than to cover all disabilities inadequately. Finally, California has a legitimate concern in maintaining the contribution rate at a level that will not unduly burden participating employees, particularly low-income employees who may be most in need of the disability insurance.

These policies provide an objective and wholly non-invidious basis for the State's decision not to create a more comprehensive insurance program than it has. There is no evidence in the record that the selection of the risks insured by the program worked to discriminate against any definable group or class in terms of the aggregate risk protection derived by that group or class from the program. There is no risk from which men are protected and women are not. Likewise, there is no risk from which women are protected and men are not.

The appellee simply contends that, although she has received insurance protection equivalent to that provided all other participating employees, she has suffered discrimination because she encountered a risk that was outside the program's protection. For the reasons we have stated, we hold that this contention is not a valid one under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The stay heretofore issued by the Court is vacated, and the judgment of the District Court is reversed."
Justice Vote: 3 Pro vs. 6 Con

  • Stewart, J. Con (Wrote majority opinion)
  • White, B. Con (Joined majority opinion)
  • Rehnquist, W. Con (Joined majority opinion)
  • Blackmun, H. Con (Joined majority opinion)
  • Powell, L. Con (Joined majority opinion)
  • Burger, W. Con (Joined majority opinion)
  • Brennan, W. Pro (Wrote dissenting opinion)
  • Marshall, T.  Pro (Joined Brennan's dissent)
  • Douglas, W.  Pro (Joined Brennan's dissent)

The ACLU filed as amicus curiae urging affirmance; the US Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the District Court in a 6-3 vote, giving the ACLU an apparent loss.