Credit for maternity leave not retroactive

The Supreme Court by a 7-2 vote Monday narrowed the reach of a federal law that bars discrimination based on pregnancy.

The justices said employers may give women less credit for pregnancy leaves than for other medical time off in the calculation of retirement benefits, if the maternity leave was taken before Congress passed the 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act.

The justices reversed a lower court decision against AT&T Corp. that had applied the act retroactively. The justices said the ruling did not prevent a company from giving less retirement credit for maternity leaves in the early 1970s.

Justice David Souter, writing for the majority, said Congress did not intend the law to apply retroactively. Souter said pension systems should allow "predictable financial consequences, both for the employer who pays the bill and for the employee who gets the benefit."

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer dissented, saying the decision allows continued pregnancy bias. The women who challenged AT&T's policy, Ginsburg wrote, "will receive, for the rest of their lives, lower pension benefits than colleagues who worked for AT&T no longer than they did."

Ginsburg, the court's only woman, noted "attitudes about pregnancy and childbirth … have sustained pervasive, often law-sanctioned, restrictions on a woman's place among paid workers and active citizens."

In other business, justices:

• Spurned an appeal by former U.S. representative William Jefferson, D-La., who faces a June trial on bribery charges.

• Agreed to hear next fall a separation-of-powers challenge to the oversight board created under the 2002 Sarbanes-Oxley Act to oversee auditors of public companies and protect investors.