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

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Marie Manhart, a former employee of the City of Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, brought a class action lawsuit on behalf of herself and current and former employees, challenging the Department's requirement that female employees contribute approximately 15 percent more than make employees to the Department's retirement plan. The Department used sex-based actuarial tables to classify employees and determine the amount of an employee's contribution. The plaintiffs alleged that because identically situated male employees paid less, the policy constituted discrimination based on sex under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The plaintiffs argued that the Department impermissibly classified employees by sex and not as individuals to determine the amount of the contributions.

The Department defended the differential treatment, asserting that women on average had longer life expectencies than men. It was argued that Title VII did not apply because actuarial longevity factor was a "factor other than the [employee's] sex. In the original majority opinion written by Justice Stevens, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed with the lower courts that the employer discriminated by reducing the take-home pay of women. The Court found retroactive relief inappropriate, however, because of the potential impact on the employer and the economy.

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