City of Los Angeles Department of Water and Power v. Manhart

PETITIONER: City of Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, et al.
RESPONDENT: Marie Manhart, et al.
LOCATION: City of Los Angeles Department of Water and Power

DOCKET NO.: 76-1810
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 435 US 702 (1978)
ARGUED: Jan 18, 1978
DECIDED: Apr 25, 1978
GRANTED: Oct 03, 1977

David J. Oliphant - for petitioners
Robert M. Dohrmann - for respondents

Facts of the case

A class of female employees of the City of Los Angeles Department of Water and Power sued the department because they were forced to make larger contributions to the employee pension plan than their male colleagues. The department determined that, because women live longer than men, the women cost the company more in retirement benefits than the men and so must pay more into the plan. Since the employee contribution was taken directly out of the employee’s paycheck, the female employees brought home less than the men.

The women sued the company for violating the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and sought an injunction against future payments as well as restitution for the past contributions. While this action was pending in district court, the California legislature passed a law prohibiting companies from forcing women to contribute to the retirement fund more than men. The department changed its payment plan effective January 1, 1975. The district court, however, found that the original plan violated the Civil Rights Act and ordered a refund for the excess payment. The U. S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed.


Does a policy that requires women to make larger contributions to a company’s pension plan than men because women tend to live longer violate the Civil Rights Act of 1964?

Is the company liable for the amount of the excess payment?

Media for City of Los Angeles Department of Water and Power v. Manhart

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 18, 1978 in City of Los Angeles Department of Water and Power v. Manhart

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - April 25, 1978 in City of Los Angeles Department of Water and Power v. Manhart

John Paul Stevens:

In the Manhart case, which comes in the Ninth Circuit, we review a sex discrimination issue.

For many years, the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power has administered pension programs for its employees.

The cost of a pension for the average retired female is greater than for the average male, because the average woman lives a few years longer than the average man.

And therefore, more monthly payments must be made to the average woman.

The department required female employees to make higher contributions to the fund than comparable male employees.

Because contributions were withheld from paychecks, a female employee took home less pay than a male employee earning the same salary.

The United States District Court for the Central District of California held that the contribution differential violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and ordered a refund of excess contributions.

The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed.

We granted certiorari to decide whether this practice discriminated against individual female employees because of their sex in violation of the Civil Rights Act.

It is now well recognized that employment decisions cannot be predicated on mere stereotype impressions about the characteristics of males or females.

This case doesn't, however, involved a fictional difference between men and women.

The department treated women differently from men because the two classes are in fact different.

It is equally true, however, that all individuals in the respect of classes, do not share the characteristic which differentiates the average class representatives.

Many women do not live as long as the average man, and many men outlive the average woman.

The question, therefore, is whether the existence or nonexistence of discrimination is to be determined by comparison of class characteristics or individual characteristics.

As we read the statue, it unambiguously focuses on the individual.

The statute makes it unlawful, “ To discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin."

The Statute prohibits treatment of an individual, as simply a component of a racial, religious, sexual, or national class.

If height is required for a job, a tall woman may not be refused employment, merely because the average woman is too short.

Even a true generalization about a class is an insufficient reason for disqualifying an individual to whom the generalization does not apply.

That proposition is of critical importance in this case, because there is no assurance that any individual woman working for the Department will actually fit the generalization on which the Department's policy is based.

Many of those individuals will not live as long as the average man.

Nothing in the statute suggests that Congress intended a special definition of discrimination in the context of employee group insurance coverage.

When insurance risks are grouped, the better risks always subsidize the poorer risks.

The fact that many women will outlive many men is no more significant than the fact that many non-smokers will outlive, many persons who smoked to excess.

Accordingly, we hold that the contribution differential, based on sex, is prohibited by the Act.

The department has also challenged the District Court's award of retroactive relief to the entire class of employee, of female employees and retirees.

For reasons stated in detail, in the opinion file with the clerk, we hold that there is merit to this challenge.

Accordingly, although we agree with the Court of Appeals' conclusion that the statute was violated, we vacate its judgment and remand for further proceedings consistent with our opinion.

Mr. Justice Blackmun filed an opinion, concurring in part, and concurring in the judgment.