The Supreme Court ensured the security of retirement plans Wednesday, ruling employers do not have to pay retroactive benefits to retired men whose pension payments were determined by sex-based mortality tables.
The court, in a 5-4 decision, overturned a decision by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that ordered Florida to pay retired male public employees more than $42 million as compensation for using illegal sex-based mortality tables in calculating retirement benefits."The imposition of retroactive liability on the states, local governments, and other employers that offered sex-based pension plans to their employees is inequitable," Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote.
"Retroactive awards, applied to every employer-operated pension plan . . . would impose financial costs that would threaten the security of both the funds and their beneficiaries," Kennedy added.
Specifically at issue in the period between 1978, the year the court ruled the sex-based acturial tabels were invalid, and 1983, when the court issued a decision on how the 1978 ruling applied to pension plans.
Kennedy was joined by Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Justices Byron White, Sandra Day O'Connor and Antonin Scalia.
In dissent, Justice Harry Blackmun, joined by Justices William Brennan and Thurgood Marshall, said the male retirees should be given retroactive benefits. Justice John Paul Stevens filed a separate dissent.
In other action, the justices:
-Upheld 6-3 the Texas death penalty law in a ruling that may encourage states to limit the kind of evidence capital defendants present to juries weighing their fate.
-Ruled 8-1 that a federal district court may not dismiss an indictment before trial because of prosecutorial misconduct without first finding that the defendant's case had been harmed.
-Held 8-1 that the Fifth Amendment protection from self-incrimination does not bar prosecutors and courts from forcing suspects to sign consent forms enabling them to obtain foreign bank records.
At issue in the pension case was whether Florida knew as of 1978 - when the Supreme Court ruled employers may not require females to pay more into pension plans than males - that use of sex-based mortality tables violated federal anti-discrimination laws.
The state attorney general's office argues that it did not know the use of gender in determining benefits was prohibited until 1983, when the Supreme Court ruled in the case called Arizona vs. Norris that employer retirement and pension plans must calculate benefits equally for men and women.
Up until 1983, the Florida Retirement System based annuities on sex-distinct mortality tables showing that women live longer than men, which resulted in lower monthly benefits to male retirees.