This suit was filed as a class action on behalf of present or former female employees of petitioner Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, alleging that the Department’s requirement that female employees make larger contributions to its pension fund than male employees violated § 703(a)(1) of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which, inter alia, makes it unlawful for an employer to discriminate against any individual because of such individual’s sex. The Department’s pension plan was based on mortality tables and its own experience showing that female employees had greater longevity than male employees, and that the cost of a pension for the average female retiree was greater than for the average male retiree because more monthly payments had to be made to the female. The District Court held that the contribution differential violated § 703(a)(1), and ordered a refund of all excess contributions antedating an amendment to the Department’s pension plan, made while this suit was pending, that eliminated sexual distinctions in the plan’s contributions and benefits. The Court of Appeals affirmed.
1. The challenged differential in the Department’s former pension plan violated § 703(a)(1). Pp. 707-718.
(a) The differential was discriminatory in its “treatment of a person in a manner which, but for that person’s sex, would be different.” The statute, which focuses on fairness to individuals, rather than fairness to classes, precludes treating individuals as simply components of a group such as the sexual class here. Even though it is true that women as a class outlive men, that generalization cannot justify disqualifying an individual to whom it does not apply. There is no reason, moreover, to believe that Congress intended a special definition of discrimination in the context of employee group insurance, since in that context, it is common and not considered unfair to treat different classes of risks as though they were the same. Pp. 707-711.
(b) Though the Department contends that the different contributions exacted from men and women were based on the factor of longevity, rather than sex, and thus constituted a statutory exemption authorized for a “differential based on any other factor other than sex,” there is no evidence that any factor other than the employee’s sex accounted for the differential here. Pp. 711-713.
(c) This case is readily distinguishable from General Electric Co. v. Gilbert, 429 U.S. 125, for here the pension plan discriminates on the basis of sex, whereas the plan in Gilbert discriminated on the basis of a special physical disability. Pp. 714-717.
2. It was inappropriate for the District Court to allow a retroactive monetary recovery in this case. Pp. 718-723.
(a) Though a presumption favors retroactive relief where a Title VII violation has been committed, Albemarle Paper Co. v. Moody, 422 U.S. 405, the appropriateness of such relief in an individual case must be assessed. Here the District Court gave insufficient attention to the equitable nature of Title VII remedies. This was the first litigation challenging pension fund contribution differences based on valid actuarial tables, which the fund administrators may well have assumed justified the differential, and the resulting prohibition against sex-differentiated employee contributions constituted a marked departure from past practice. Pp. 719-721.
(b) In view of the grave consequences that drastic changes in legal rules can have on pension funds, such rules should not be given retroactive effect unless plainly commanded by legislative action. Pp. 721-723.
553 F.2d 581, vacated and remanded.
STEVENS, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which STEWART, WHITE, and POWELL, JJ., joined, in all but Part IV of which MARSHALL, J., joined, and in Part IV of which BURGER, C.J., and BLACKMUN and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. BLACKMUN, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment, post, p. 723. BURGER, C.J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, in which REHNQUIST, J., joined, post, p. 725. MARSHALL, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part., post, p. 728. BRENNAN, J., took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.