SHAW V. DELTA AIR LINES, INC., 463 U. S. 85 (1983)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Shaw v. Delta Air Lines, Inc., 463 U.S. 85 (1983)

Shaw v. Delta Air Lines, Inc.

No. 81-1578

Argued January 10, 1983

Decided June 24, 1983*

463 U.S. 85


New York's Human Rights Law forbids discrimination in employee benefit plans on the basis of pregnancy, and its Disability Benefits Law requires employers to pay sick-leave benefits to employees unable to work because of pregnancy. Section 514(a) of the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) provides, with enumerated exceptions, that ERISA shall supersede "any and all state laws insofar as they may now or hereafter relate to any employee benefit plan" covered by ERISA. ERISA does not mandate that employers provide any particular benefits, and does not itself proscribe discrimination in the provision of employee benefits. Prior to the effective date of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 (PDA), which made discrimination based on pregnancy unlawful under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, appellee employers had welfare benefit plans subject to ERISA that did not provide benefits to employees disabled by pregnancy. Appellees brought three separate declaratory judgment actions in Federal District Court, alleging that the Human Rights Law was preempted by ERISA. Appellee airlines also alleged that the Disability Benefits Law was preempted. The District Court in each case held that the Human Rights Law was preempted, at least insofar as it required the provision of pregnancy benefits prior to the effective date of the PDA. As to appellee airlines' challenge to the Disability Benefits Law, the District Court construed § 4(b)(3) of ERISA as exempting from ERISA coverage those provisions of an employee benefit plan maintained to comply with state disability insurance laws, and, because it concluded that appellees would have provided pregnancy benefits solely to comply with the Disability Benefits Law, the court dismissed the portion of the complaint seeking relief from that law. The Court of Appeals affirmed as to the Human

Page 463 U. S. 86

Rights Law. With respect to the Disability Benefits Law, the Court of Appeals held that § 4(b)(3)'s exemption from preemption applied only when a benefit plan, "as an integral unit," is maintained solely to comply with the disability law. The Court of Appeals remanded for a determination whether appellee airlines provided benefits through such plans, in which event the Disability Benefits Law would be enforceable, or through portions of comprehensive plans, in which case ERISA regulation would be exclusive.


1. Given § 514(a)'s plain language, and ERISA's structure and legislative history, both the Human Rights Law and the Disability Benefits Law "relate to any employee benefit plan" within the meaning of § 514(a). Pp. 463 U. S. 95-100.

2. The Human Rights Law is preempted with respect to ERISA benefit plans only insofar as it prohibits practices that are lawful under federal law. Pp. 463 U. S. 100-106.

(a) Section 514(d) of ERISA provides that § 514(a) shall not "be construed to . . . modify [or] impair . . . any law of the United States." To the extent that the Human Rights Law provides a means of enforcing Title VII's commands, preemption of the Human Rights Law would modify and impair federal law within the meaning of § 514(d). State fair employment laws and administrative remedies play a significant role in the federal enforcement scheme under Title VII. If ERISA were interpreted to preempt the Human Rights Law entirely with respect to covered benefit plans, the State no longer could prohibit employment practices relating to such plans and the state agency no longer would be authorized to grant relief. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission thus would be unable to refer claims involving covered plans to the state agency. This would frustrate the goal of encouraging joint state/federal enforcement of Title VII. Pp. 463 U. S. 100-102.

(b) Insofar as state laws prohibit employment practices that are lawful under Title VII, however, preemption would not impair Title VII within the meaning of § 514(d). While § 514(d) may operate to exempt state laws upon which federal laws, such as Title VII, depend for their enforcement, the combination of Congress' enactment of § 514(a)'s all-inclusive preemption provision and its enumeration of narrow, specific exceptions to that provision militate against expanding § 514(d) into a more general saving clause. Section 514(d)'s limited legislative history is entirely consistent with Congress' goal of ensuring that employers would not face conflicting or inconsistent state and local regulation of employee benefit plans. Pp. 463 U. S. 103-106.

3. The Disability Benefits Law is not preempted by ERISA. Pp. 463 U. S. 106-108.

Page 463 U. S. 87

(a) Section 4(b)(3) of ERISA, which exempts from ERISA coverage "any employee benefit plan . . . maintained solely for the purpose of complying with applicable . . . disability insurance laws," excludes "plans," not portions of plans, from ERISA coverage. Hence, those portions of appellee airlines' multibenefit plans maintained to comply with the Disability Benefits Law are not exempt from ERISA and are not subject to state regulation. Section 4(b)(3)'s use of the word "solely" demonstrates that the purpose of the entire plan must be to comply with an applicable disability insurance law. Thus, only separately administered disability plans maintained solely to comply with the Disability Benefits Law are exempt from ERISA coverage under § 4(b)(3). Pp. 463 U. S. 106-108.

(b) A State may require an employer to maintain a separate disability plan, but the fact that state law permits employers to meet their state law obligations by including disability benefits in a multibenefit ERISA plan does not make the state law wholly unenforceable as to employers who choose that option. P. 463 U. S. 108.

650 F.2d 1287 and 666 F.2d 21; and 666 F.2d 27 and 666 F.2d 26, affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded.

BLACKMUN, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

Page 463 U. S. 88

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