General Elec. Co. v. Gilbert
429 U.S. 125 (1976)

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U.S. Supreme Court

General Elec. Co. v. Gilbert, 429 U.S. 125 (1976)

General Electric Co. v. Gilbert

No. 74-1589

Argued January 19-20, 1976

Reargued October 13, 1976

Decided December 7, 1976*

429 U.S. 125


This class action was brought by respondents challenging as violative of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 the disability plan of petitioner. Under the plan, petitioner provides nonoccupational sickness and accident benefits to all its employees, but disabilities arising from pregnancy are excluded. The District Court following trial held that the exclusion constituted sex discrimination in violation of Title VII. The Court of Appeals affirmed, finding that the intervening decision in Geduldig v. Aiello, 417 U. S. 484, wherein this Court held that disparity in treatment between pregnancy-related and other disabilities was not sex discrimination under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, was not applicable in a Title VII context. Under § 703(a)(1) of that Title it is an unlawful employment practice for an employer to discriminate against any individual with respect to compensation because of that individual's sex.

Held: Petitioner's disability benefits plan does not violate Title VII because of its failure to cover pregnancy-related disabilities. Pp. 429 U. S. 133-146.

(a) The plan, which is strikingly similar to the one in Geduldig,

"does not exclude anyone from benefit eligibility because of gender, but merely removes one physical condition -- pregnancy -- from the list of compensable disabilities. . . . Absent a showing that distinctions involving pregnancy are mere pretexts designed to effect an invidious discrimination against the members of one sex or the other, lawmakers are constitutionally free to include or exclude pregnancy from the coverage of legislation such as this on any reasonable basis, just as with respect to any other physical condition."

417 U.S. at 417 U. S. 496-497, n. 20. Since it is a finding of sex-based discrimination that, in a case like this, must trigger the finding of an unlawful employment practice under § 703(a)(1), Geduldig is precisely in point in its holding that an exclusion of pregnancy from a disability benefits plan like petitioner's providing general coverage is not a gender-based discrimination at all. Pp. 429 U. S. 133-136.

(b) There was no more showing here than there was in Geduldig that

Page 429 U. S. 126

the exclusion of pregnancy disability benefits from petitioner's plan was a pretext for discriminating against women, since pregnancy, though confined to women, is in other ways significantly different from the typical covered disease or disability. P. 429 U. S. 136.

(c) Gender-based discrimination does not result simply because an employer's disability benefits plan is less than all-inclusive. Petitioner's plan is no more than an insurance package covering some risks but excluding others, and there has been no showing that the selection of included risks creates a gender-based discriminatory effect. Pp. 429 U. S. 136-140.

(d) A 1972 guideline of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) relied upon by respondents, not only conflicts with earlier EEOC pronouncements, but is at odds with the consistent interpretation of the Wage and Hour Administrator with respect to § 703(h) of Title VII, as amended by the Equal Pay Act, and the legislative history of Title VII, both of which support the "plain meaning" of the language used by Congress when it enacted § 703(a)(1). Pp. 429 U. S. 140-145.

519 F.2d 661, reversed.

REHNQUIST, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and STEWART, WHITE, and POWELL, JJ., joined, and in which BLACKMUN, J., joined in part. STEWART, J., filed a concurring statement, post, p. 429 U. S. 146. BLACKMUN, J., filed a statement concurring in part, post, p. 429 U. S. 146. BRENNAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which MARSHALL, J., joined, post, p. 429 U. S. 146. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 429 U. S. 160.

Page 429 U. S. 127

Primary Holding
General Electric's employee benefits plan covering nonoccupational sickness and accidents, but excluding disabilities arising from pregnancy, does not constitute sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
As part of its total compensation package, General Electric provided nonoccupational sickness and accident benefits to all employees under its Weekly Sickness and Accident Insurance Plan (Plan). Several present and former hourly paid production employees at General Electric's plant in Salem, Virginia, were pregnant during while employed by General Electric, and each presented a claim to the company for disability benefits under the Plan to cover the period while absent from work as a result of the pregnancy. These claims were routinely denied on the ground that the Plan did not provide disability-benefit payments for any absence due to pregnancy. Those present and former works brought this lawsuit to challenge the Plan as violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Procedural History

U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia - 375 F. Supp. 367

The district court held that the exclusion of disabilities due to pregnancy from General Electric's benefits plan violated Title VII.

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit - 519 F.2d 661

The court of appeals affirmed the district court's holding for the plaintiffs.

  • Theophil C. Kammholz
  • Stanley R. Strauss
  • John S. Battle, Jr.
  • J. Robert Brame III
  • Ruth Weyand
  • Winn Newman
  • Seymour DuBow



  • William Hubbs Rehnquist (Author)
  • Warren Earl Burger
  • Potter Stewart
  • Byron Raymond White
  • Lewis Franklin Powell, Jr.
  • Harry Andrew Blackmun


  • Potter Stewart (Author)

Concurrence/Dissent In Part

  • Harry Andrew Blackmun (Author)


  • William Joseph Brennan, Jr. (Author)
  • Thurgood Marshall


  • John Paul Stevens (Author)

Case Commentary

Together with Geduldig v. Aiello, 417 U.S. 484 (1974), where the Supreme Court held that a similar policy that excluded from coverage disabilities resulting from normal pregnancy did not violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, this case was one of the driving forces behind Congress passing the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978. That Act amended Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to "prohibit sex discrimination on the basis of pregnancy."

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