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Law School Case Brief

Cleveland Bd. of Educ. v. LaFleur - 414 U.S. 632, 94 S. Ct. 791 (1974)

Rule:

Freedom of personal choice in matters of marriage and family life is one of the liberties protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. There is a right to be free from unwarranted governmental intrusion into matters so fundamentally affecting a person as the decision whether to bear or beget a child. By acting to penalize the pregnant teacher for deciding to bear a child, overly restrictive maternity leave regulations can constitute a heavy burden on the exercise of these protected freedoms. Because public school maternity leave rules directly affect one of the basic civil rights of man, the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment requires that such rules must not needlessly, arbitrarily, or capriciously impinge upon this vital area of a teacher's constitutional liberty. 

Facts:

Two cases presented issues as to the validity under the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of school regulations dealing with maternity leaves of teachers. In No. 72-777, plaintiffs Jo Carol LaFleur and Ann Elizabeth Nelson instituted civil rights actions in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio challenging the constitutionality of a maternity leave rule of defendant Board of Education of Cleveland, Ohio, which provided that a pregnant teacher must take maternity leave beginning 5 months before the expected birth of her child, that the teacher give notice of her pregnancy at least 2 weeks prior to the time when she must begin her maternity leave, and that she could become eligible for re-employment no earlier than the beginning of the next school semester after her child was 3 months old, provided that a doctor issued a certificate attesting to the teacher's health. The district court found against the teachers (326 F Supp 1208), but the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed, finding that the Cleveland rule was in violation of the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. In No. 72-1129, plaintiff Susan Cohen instituted a civil rights action in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Virignia challenging the constitutionality of a maternity leave rule of defendant School Board of Chesterfield County, Virginia which contained notice (6 months) and mandatory termination (4 months) provisions similar to the Cleveland rule, but which provided that the teacher would be eligible for re-employment upon her submission of a notice from a doctor attesting to her physical fitness, with her re-employment guaranteed no later than the first day of the school year following the date when she became eligible. The district court held that the rule violated the equal protection clause, but the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, after first affirming, on rehearing reversed and upheld the constitutionality of the rule.

Issue:

Did the mandatory termination provisions of both school boards' maternity leave rules violate the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The Supreme Court of the United States held that the freedom of personal choice in matters of marriage and family life was one of the liberties protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The arbitrary cutoff dates embodied in the mandatory leave rules had no rational relationship to the valid state interest of preserving continuity of instruction, and allowing the individual teacher the choice to set firm dates later in pregnancy would serve the Boards' objectives, while not violating the teachers' exercise of constitutionally protected freedom. The Court held that while it might be easier for the Boards to conclusively presume that all pregnant women were unfit to teach past a certain date, administrative convenience alone was insufficient to make valid what otherwise was unconstitutional. The Court also held that any school board regulations which arbitrarily limited the teachers' right to return to teaching suffered from the same constitutional deficiencies that plagued the presumption in the termination rules.

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