EEOC Office of Legal Counsel staff members wrote the following informal discussion letter in response to an inquiry from a member of the public. This letter is intended to provide an informal discussion of the noted issue and does not constitute an official opinion of the Commission.
ADA and Title VII - Disability Retirement Benefits
July 29, 2005
This responds to your July 20, 2005 letter raising the following two questions:
"(A) Is an ERISA Annuity Fund required to provide retirement benefits to pregnant plan participants when the trust document allows disbursement of such benefits to those who "become disabled and incapable of continuing to work ... as a result of bodily injury or disease"?
(B) If an ERISA Fund is required to disburse benefits on the basis of pregnancy, is this requirement for all pregnancies or is there a distinction in the law between a general uncomplicated pregnancy versus a pregnancy with a complicating factor that renders one unable to work."
You note that the plan about which you are inquiring further describes disability as a "physical or mental impairment that renders a participant incapable of continuing Covered Employment as a result of bodily injury or disease."
To the extent you are inquiring about compliance with provisions of the Employee Income Retirement Security Act (ERISA), the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) does not enforce that law. Questions regarding ERISA compliance may be directed to the Employee Benefits Security Administration of the U.S. Department of Labor. Further information regarding that agency's ERISA compliance resources is available on the Internet at www.dol.gov/ebsa/.
To the extent you are inquiring about Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), information relevant to your inquiry may be found in the EEOC's regulations and policy materials.
The ADA defines "disability" as: (1) a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity; (2) a record of a substantially limiting impairment; or (3) being regarded as having a substantially limiting impairment. Pregnancy is not an "impairment" and so does not constitute a disability within the meaning of the ADA; however, complications resulting from pregnancy are impairments, though they may not necessarily be disabilities. See 29 C.F.R. pt. 1630 app. § 1630.2(h); EEOC Compliance Manual "Definition of the Term Disability" (March 14, 1995) (available at www.eeoc.gov/policy/docs/902cm.html), at § 902.(2)(c).
Applying these principles, an individual who seeks to maintain a claim of disparate treatment based on disability under the ADA could not do so based solely on pregnancy. Moreover, while it is true that various pregnancy-related complications may in some instances render a woman an individual with a disability, denial of disability retirement benefits to such individuals does not implicate the disparate treatment provisions of the ADA if the distinction is based on pregnancy (as the cause of the disability) rather than based on the disability itself. The distinction could be actionable under ADA, however, if the real reason for the denial of benefits is not the pregnancy but rather the nature of the resulting disability.
A distinction based on pregnancy could implicate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. The EEOC issued the "Guidelines on Discrimination Because of Sex" at 29 C.F.R. Part 1604 and accompanying Appendix to Part 1604 ("Questions and Answers on the Pregnancy Discrimination Act"). These guidelines articulate basic equal treatment principles regarding what does and does not constitute pregnancy discrimination under the Act. In general, for purposes of fringe benefits, including retirement plans, the guidelines require treating pregnancy-related temporary disabilities in the same manner as other temporary disabilities, and pregnancy-related long-term disabilities in the same manner as other long-term disabilities.
I hope this information is helpful. This has been an informal discussion of the issues you raised and does not constitute an official opinion of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Please note that any silence on other statements or analyses that may have been presented by your letter should not be construed as agreement with those matters.
Peggy R. Mastroianni
Associate Legal Counsel
This page was last modified on April 27, 2007.
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