Newport News Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Company v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

PETITIONER: Newport News Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Company
RESPONDENT: Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
LOCATION: Dr. Simopoulos’ Clinic

DOCKET NO.: 82-411
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

CITATION: 462 US 669 (1983)
ARGUED: Apr 27, 1983
DECIDED: Jun 20, 1983

ADVOCATES:
Andrew M. Kramer - on behalf of the Petitioner
Harriet S. Shapiro - on behalf of the Respondent

Facts of the case

Question

Media for Newport News Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Company v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 27, 1983 in Newport News Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Company v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

Warren E. Burger:

We'll hear arguments next in Newport News Shipbuilding against the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Mr. Kramer, I think you may proceed when you're ready.

Andrew M. Kramer:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

The Court today is revisiting an area that it has visited in such cases as Geduldig v. Aiello, General Electric Company v. Gilbert, Nashville Gas Company v. Satty, and to a somewhat lesser degree, the decision of Los Angeles Department of Water and Power v. Manhart.

Unlike those cases, however, the claim of discrimination here is not being brought on behalf of female employees.

This case involves male employees and the question of what benefits are to be provided their spouses for hospitalization costs incurred as a result of childbirth.

In deciding this question the Court for the first time is asked to analyze the scope of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, an act passed as a direct result of this Court's decision in Gilbert.

The Shipyard in this case has a comprehensive group health insurance plan.

The plan covers employees, their spouses, and unmarried children up to the age of 19 years.

Prior to the passage of the PDA, the Shipyard covered female employees and the spouses of male employees identically with respect to pregnancy hospitalization costs.

Under that plan, the Shipyard provided hospitalization costs incurred as a result of normal childbirth of up to $500 with full prenatal expenses taken care of, physician and anesthesiologist costs, and major medical coverage in the event of pregnancy complications.

As a result of the PDA, however, the Shipyard removed the $500 cap with respect to its female employees, but retained the cap with respect to the spouses of its male employees.

It is the failure to remove this cap which the Government alleges constitutes intentional compensation discrimination against male employees under Section 703(a) of Title VII.

At the outset it's important to note that the Government's position here has not been a model of consistency, indeed has been ever-changing.

When Congress considered the PDA, Drew Days, then Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, and the Deputy General Counsel of the EEOC testified in House hearings, pursuant to a question, that they did not believe that the PDA was intended to govern the question of dependents or their coverage.

The EEOC, when it promulgated its very question and answers dealing with the issue of dependent coverage for male employees, stated that the issue was not resolved by the PDA, but rather had to be resolved under existing Title VII principles.

We contend, as submitted in our briefs, that both the language of the statute and its legislative history show that the PDA itself does not govern this issue, and that the PDA itself does not make this Shipyard's insurance plan unlawful on its face.

In amending Title VII with respect to the PDA, Congress did not add a new substantive provision or make it a new separate act, but rather chose to amend the definitional section, and added as a definition under Section 701, 701(k), the first clause of which reads

"that the terms because of sex or on the basis of sex include, but are not limited to, because of on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions. "

Except for the Fourth Circuit in the Instant case, all other courts which have construed this language have interpreted this provision to be simply definitional, and that it must be read into the substantive provisions of Title VII.

Indeed, Drew Days in the same testimony that he gave to the House as Assistant Attorney General in support of the PDA noted that in fact on pages 171 and I believe 172 of the House hearings that in fact what Congress was doing with those terms was putting them into the substantive provisions of Title VII.

If Congress had felt otherwise, it is curious why Congress would have put the terms

"because of sex or on the basis of sex. "

in quotation marks, since those terms, while not the specific language, but the terms 703 of Title VII, which are the very sections requiring employers, labor organizations, other individuals to take certain affirmative steps with respect to equal opportunity.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Mr. Kramer--

Andrew M. Kramer:

Yes, Justice O'Connor.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

--On your argument you're asking us to... to look back at the provisions of Title VII, basically, to see the answer to this inquiry.

And let me ask you whether you think it would be a violation of Title VII for an employer to furnish medical coverage for wives of employees but not for husbands.

Andrew M. Kramer:

Well, I think that would be--

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Is that a Title VII violation?