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The 2d U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has determined that Congress was not motivated to discriminate against women when it required recipients of Social Security Disability Insurance to have worked in five out of the previous 10 years. Collier v. Barnhart, No. 06-3644-cv. The three-judge panel reluctantly said it could do nothing to help Claire Collier, a sufferer of Lou Gehrig’s disease who was challenging the so-called 20/40 rule: the requirement that recipients over the age of 31 must have worked 20 out of the previous 40 quarters. Claire Collier worked full-time from 1979 through 1994, and during that time, she and her employer contributed more than $40,000 in Social Security and Medicare taxes. She then left the work force to become a full-time mother and raised three children. In 2003, she was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig’s disease. Over the next three years, she and her family spent more than $500,000 on special equipment and medical care. In 2004, Collier applied for disability insurance, but her application was denied. She filed suit in Connecticut in October 2005 claiming violation of her due process rights and right to equal protection. She said that the 20/40 rule discriminated against women because they were more likely than men to leave the work force to become full-time parents. In April 2006, Magistrate Judge Joan Glazer Margolis recommended that Collier’s motion for summary judgment be denied and that the Social Security Administration’s decision be upheld. U.S. Judge Peter Dorsey of the District of Connecticut adopted the recommendation. Collier appealed to the 2d Circuit. The circuit court agreed that there was “persuasive evidence” that women with professional degrees are out of the work force at almost three times the rate as men and, in most cases, that the reason is they are taking care of the family. “However,” the per curiam opinion said, “as the district court correctly observed, Supreme Court precedents dictate that disparate impact is only a ‘starting point’ . . . and petitioner must prove discriminatory purpose. “It is here that petitioner’s argument fails, as she has no evidence that Congress was motivated by an ‘invidious discriminatory purpose’ in enacting the 20/40 Rule. At best, her evidence indicates a recognition that women may suffer because of the 20/40 Rule.” The court said that legislative recognition of an adverse impact on women doesn’t imply such a discriminatory purpose because Collier would have to show that Congress enacted the rule with the goal of discriminating. Since she has not shown that, the court said that the 20/40 rule is subject to rational basis review. “We cannot conclude that the 20/40 Rule does not meet the minimal standard of rationality, as Congress could rationally choose to distribute a scarce resource among those who both have contributed more recently to the system and have indicated, by their actions, that they are more dependent on the salaries they draw from being employed,” the court said. “As a court, we observe that we have no authority to override Congress’s policy preference so as to substitute our own views.” For similar reasons, Collier’s due process claim also failed. Collier has advocated reform of the 20/40 rule. Federal legislators from Connecticut, the court said, have introduced the “Claire Collier Social Security Disability Insurance Act,” which would render the rule inapplicable “in the case of a disabled individual suffering from a covered terminal disease.” Congress is the appropriate forum for changing the rule, the court said. “While we as a court are without authority to provide the relief that petitioner seeks, Congress can do so. Petitioner must turn to the legislative branch to consider this issue of great human consequence.”

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