To withstand constitutional challenge, classifications by gender must serve important governmental objectives and must be substantially related to the achievement of those objectives. Such classifications, however, have frequently been revealed on analysis to rest only upon "old notions" and "archaic and overbroad" generalizations, and so have been found to offend the prohibitions against denial of equal protection of the law.
Under the Federal Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance Benefits Program, survivors' benefits are payable to the widow of a husband covered under the Social Security Act regardless of the degree of her dependency upon the deceased husband. However, survivors' benefits are payable to the widower of a wife covered by the Act only if the widower was receiving at least one-half of his support from the deceased wife. Challenging the sex-based distinction for survivors' benefits, a widower who had been denied a widower's benefit because of the support requirement brought an action in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York. The three-judge District Court held that the different treatment of men and women mandated by 402(f)(1)(D) constituted unconstitutional discrimination against female wage earners.
Did the sex-based distinction violate the Fifth Amendment?
The Court agreed that the sex-based distinction of 402(f)(1)(D) violated the Fifth Amendment. The dissimilar treatment for men and women who were similarly situated violated the equal protection clause. Benefits were to be distributed according to classifications that did not, without sufficient justification, differentiate among covered employees solely on the basis of sex. Appellee was entitled to recover.