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Published as part of Chapter 10 in Feminist Judgments, Kathryn M. Stanchi, Linda L. Berger & Bridget J. Crawford, eds.

In Geduldig, the Court was asked to decide whether California invidiously discriminated against women in violation of equal protection doctrine by excluding disabilities related to “normal” pregnancy and childbirth from its otherwise comprehensive employment disability insurance program. At the time, the U.S. Supreme Court had not yet clearly articulated that heightened scrutiny must apply for sex-based classifications, although it had strongly suggested as much in two recent cases, Reed v. Reed and Frontiero v. Richardson. The Court had also recently emphasized the importance of reproductive liberty in Cleveland Board of Education v. LaFleur, which struck down employers’ forced maternity leave policies. Furthermore, the lower court opinion in Geduldig had held that California's pregnancy exclusion denied equal protection to women. The three-judge district court opinion had emphasized in particular that under the standard articulated in Reed, states cannot impose statutory classifications based upon gender stereotypes.

Yet six justices, led by Justice Stewart, rejected the plaintiffs’ claims. Most striking to many critics, the Court refused to recognize pregnancy discrimination as sex discrimination. The Court rejected the plaintiffs’ argument that the heightened level of “rational basis” scrutiny applied in Reed and Frontiero should apply to the California statute, because the statute was “a far cry from cases like [Reed and Frontiero] involving discrimination based upon gender as such.” Instead, the Court declared: “There is no risk from which men are protected and women are not.

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Fourteenth Amendment | Law | Law and Politics

<em>Geduldig v. Aiello</em>, 417 U.S. 484 (1974) (Judgment)