Califano v. Webster
430 U.S. 313 (1977)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Califano v. Webster, 430 U.S. 313 (1977)

Califano v. Webster

No. 76-457

Decided March 21, 1977

430 U.S. 313

Syllabus

Under § 215 of the Social Security Act, old-age benefits are computed on the basis of a wage earner's "average monthly wage" earned during his "benefit computation years" which are the "elapsed years" (reduced by five) during which his covered wages were highest. Until 1972, when the statute was amended to eliminate the distinction, "elapsed years" depended upon the wage earner's sex. Section 215(b)(3) prescribed that the number of "elapsed years" for a male wage earner would be three higher than for an otherwise similarly situated female wage earner; for a male, the number of "elapsed years" equaled the number of years that elapsed after 1950 and before the year in which he became 65, whereas, for a female, the number of "elapsed years" equaled the number of years that elapsed after 1950 and before the year in which she became 62. Accordingly, a female could exclude from the computation of her "average monthly wage" three more lower earning years than a similarly situated male could exclude, and this would result in a slightly higher "average monthly wage" and correspondingly higher monthly old-age benefits for the retired female wage earner. On review of a denial of the request of appellee male wage earner (to whom the 1972 amendment did not apply because he reached age 62 before its effective date) that the more favorable formula be used to compute his old-age benefits, the District Court held that the statutory scheme violated the equal protection component of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment on the grounds that (1) to give women who reached age 62 before 1975 greater benefits than men of the same age and earnings record was irrational, and (2) in any event, the 1972 amendment was to be construed to apply retroactively, because otherwise it would be irrational.

Held:

1. "[C]lassifications by gender must serve important governmental objectives and must be substantially related to the achievement of those objectives," Craig v. Boren,429 U. S. 190, 429 U. S. 197.

2. The statutory scheme itself, and the legislative history of former § 215(b)(3), demonstrate that the statute was deliberately enacted to "redres[s] our society's longstanding disparate treatment of women,"

Page 430 U. S. 314

Califano v. Goldfarb, ante at 430 U. S. 209 n. 8, and was not "the accidental byproduct of a traditional way of thinking about females." Ante at 430 U. S. 223 (STEVENS, J., concurring in judgment). The statute operated directly to compensate women for past economic discrimination by allowing them to eliminate additional low-earning years from the calculation of their retirement benefits, and in no way penalized women wage earners.

3. The failure to make the 1972 amendment retroactive does not constitute discrimination on the basis of date of birth. Old-age benefits are not constitutionally immunized against alterations of this kind, but Congress may replace one constitutional computation formula with another, and make the new formula prospective only.

413 F.Supp. 127, reversed.

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