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Court Ruling Does Not Affect Maternity Benefits at Harvard

By Betsy Gershun

Harvard will continue to allow women employees to collect sick pay during absences for pregnancy despite yesterday's Supreme Court ruling that permits employers to refuse to compensate women for maternity leave, a University official said yesterday.

Daniel Cantor, director of personnel administration, said the University has "no intention of changing its maternity policy in light of this new ruling."

The current provisions allow a Harvard employee to use sick leave for pregnancy "just as if she had the flu or broke her leg on a ski slope," Loretta Stokes, personnel administrator, said yesterday.

Under the new ruling, employers need not include pregnancy in their list of disabilities for which an employee can receive compensation.

A Blow to Women's Rights

The Supreme Court decision was a "horrible blow to the cause of women's rights," Herma Kay, visiting professor of Law, said yesterday.

The verdict was unexpected because six lower courts had ruled in previous cases that pregnancy is a legitimate disability, Kay said.

The court ruled that "pregnancy is not gender related--that it is just coincidence that it happens only to women," Lawrence H. Tribe, professor of Law, said yesterday. "I find that difficult to justify," he added.

Stokes said Harvard's maternity policy is "a generous one."

The current regulations place a 13 week limit on maternity absence covered by sick pay, but any employee--male or female--is entitled to an unpaid maternity or paternity leave of up to one year, Stokes said.

No Questions Asked

Those 13 weeks are a "no questions asked time period" and the woman does not have to prove any health disability, Stokes added.

If she wants to extend her sick pay coverage, she must submit satisfactory medical evidence that she is unable to attend work regularly, Stokes said.

"We work on the assumption that a normal person doesn't need more than three months to have a baby," she said.

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