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L.A. Wins Pregnancy Benefits; Justice Charges R.I. With Sex Bias

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Wives of employees of the Los Angeles Unified School District have won the right to receive pregnancy benefits.

And on the opposite coast, the state of Rhode Island has come under fire from the U.S. Justice Department for sex discrimination under the 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act.

In the Los Angeles case, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled last month that federal law requires that employers provide medical benefits for "pregnancy-related conditions" of employees' spouses "at the same level as coverage is provided to spouses generally."

The ruling, which is retroactive, was made under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act--an amendment to Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion, and national origin. The district does not plan an appeal.

The cost to the district of the added benefits cannot be calculated until the school board decides whether the benefits will be retroactive to December 1981 or to March 1982, according to Patrick Spencer, the district's public-information officer.

The suit--United Teachers-Los Angeles v. Board of Education--was brought in 1981 by the union on behalf of the families of district teachers, but covers all employees.

Lawyers in the case say a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down a similar health plan for Virginia shipyard workers that offered more benefits to male employees and their wives than to female employees and their husbands paved the way for the Los Angeles decision.

Different Treatment

In a related development, the Justice Department has filed suit against the state of Rhode Island and its Department of Employment Security, charging that women employees with pregnancy- and childbirth-related disabilities have been treated differently than employees with other disabilities in violation of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.

This suit marks the second time the Justice Department has made such charges, according to John Wilson, a spokesman for the agency. In a suit filed last April against the Buffalo (N.Y.) School District and several labor unions, the Justice Department charged that school-board policies deny "sick-leave bank" coverage to pregnant employees and longterm disability insurance to employees disabled by childbirth, thus offering male employees more comprehensive coverage and subjecting women employees to "terms and conditions of employment not imposed on men." (See Education Week, April 13, 1983).

That suit--U.S. v. Buffalo Board of Education--is still in the pretrial stage but should be resolved within the next few weeks, according to Aubrey McCutchon, the district's lawyer.

Limited Benefits

In the Rhode Island suit, filed in Providence Sept. 6, the Justice Department charged the Rhode Island Department of Employment Security, the department's director, Mary C. Hackett, and the state of Rhode Island, with limiting benefits under a state-administered temporary disability-insurance program to a fixed-dollar amount for disabilities caused by pregnancy and childbirth. Such limits are not imposed on disabilities caused by other medical conditions, according to the federal agency.

The suit also charges that the insurance program does not provide a waiting-period credit for temporary disabilities caused by pregnancy and childbirth, while giving such a credit for all other disabilities. The policy thus provides male employees with more comprehensive coverage than female employees, the Justice Department states.

The suit, U.S. v. Rhode Island, seeks retroactive benefits for as many as 9,000 eligible women who were allegedly discriminated against from April 29, 1979 to Aug. 1, 1981, when state legislation eliminating the alleged discriminatory provisions took effect, according to Justice Department officials.

(The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission had previously concluded, based on a charge filed in 1980, that the state department had discriminated against women by denying them equal benefits, but was unsuccessful in its attempt to reach a voluntary resolution of the charge.)

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