Cleveland Board of Education v. LaFleur

PETITIONER: Cleveland Board of Education, Chesterfield County School Board, Dr. Robert F. Kelly
RESPONDENT: Jo Carol LaFleur, Ann Elizabeth Nelson, Susan Cohen
LOCATION: Cleveland Board of Education

DOCKET NO.: 72-777
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1972-1975)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

CITATION: 414 US 632 (1974)
ARGUED: Oct 15, 1973
DECIDED: Jan 21, 1974

Jane M. Picker - for respondents
Philip J. Hirschkop - for petitioner in 72 1129
Samuel W. Hixon, III - for respondents

Facts of the case

Carol Jo LaFleur was a teacher at Patrick Henry Junior High School in Cleveland, Ohio. She was forced to discontinue her duties on March 12, 1971 because the Cleveland School Board required every teacher to take maternity leave without pay five months before the expected date of birth. The board also ruled that a teacher could not return from maternity leave until 1) the next school semester began, 2) the teacher obtained a certificate from her physician showing good medical health, and 3) the newborn child was three months old.

Ann Elizabeth Nelson was a French teacher at Central Junior High School, also in Cleveland. She reported her pregnancy to the school's principal on January 29, 1971, and applied for maternity leave. Both LaFleur and Nelson wanted to continue teaching until the end of the school year, but were forced to leave in March 1971. LaFleur and Nelson filed separate suits in district court challenging the constitutionality of the school boards' maternity leave rules; the court tried their cases together, and held that the board's policies were constitutional. A divided panel of the United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit, reversed, concluding that the mandatory leave policy violated the Fourteenth Amendment's equal protection clause.

Susan Cohen was a social studies teacher at Midlothian High School in Chesterfield County, Virginia. Cohen notified the Chesterfield School Board that she was pregnant on November 2, 1970. The board's rule required pregnant teachers to go on maternity leave at the end of their fifth month, but allowed re-employment the next school year upon submission of a medical certificate from the teacher's physician. Cohen's obstetrician believed that she was fit to continue working, but the school board denied Cohen's request for an extension. Cohen challenged the constitutionality of Chesterfield County's rule in district court, which held that the regulation violated the equal protection clause. The United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit, affirmed, but on rehearing en banc, the court upheld the constitutionality of the regulation.


1. Did both school boards' policies terminating teachers' employment in their fourth or fifth month of pregnancy violate the Fourteenth Amendment?

2. Did the Cleveland School Board's policy preventing LaFleur and Nelson from returning to work until their children were three months old violate the Fourteenth Amendment?

3. Did the Chesterfield School Board's policy allowing Cohen to resume employment after maternity leave only upon submission of a certificate of medical health by her physician violate the Fourteenth Amendment?

Media for Cleveland Board of Education v. LaFleur

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 15, 1973 in Cleveland Board of Education v. LaFleur

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - January 21, 1974 in Cleveland Board of Education v. LaFleur

Warren E. Burger:

The judgment and opinion of the Court in 77 -- 72-777, Cleveland Board of Education against Lafleur, along the 72-1129, Cohen against Chesterfield County School Board will be announced by Mr. Justice Stewart.

Potter Stewart:

The respondents in number 72-777 were female public school teachers employed by the Board of Education of Cleveland, Ohio.

The petitioner in number 72-1129 was a female school teacher employed by the School Board of Chesterfield County, Virginia.

During the 1970, 1971 school year, each informed her local school board, that she was pregnant.

Each was compelled by a mandatory maternity leave rule to quit her job without pay several months before the expected birth of her child.

Each thereafter bought suit in a Federal District Court, challenging the constitutional validity of the School Board's mandatory termination rule.

The Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ultimately held unconstitutional, the Cleveland rule, that requires every pregnant school teacher to take a maternity leave without pay, beginning five months before the expected birth of her child.

The Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ultimately upheld the constitutionality of the Chesterfield County rule, that requires a pregnant teacher to leave her job at least four months before the expected birth of her child.

We granted certiorari in both cases to resolve this conflict of authority upon an important constitutional issue.

For the reasons stated in detail in the written opinion filed today, 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.

Accordingly the judgment in number 72-777 is affirmed.

The judgment in 72-1129 is reversed and the case is remanded to the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit for further proceedings consistent with the Court's written opinion.

Mr. Justice Douglas concurs in the result.

Mr. Justice Powell also concurs in the result and he has filed a separate opinion setting out his views.

Mr. Justice Rehnquist has filed a dissenting opinion, in which the Chief Justice has joined.