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WENGLER V. DRUGGISTS MUT. INS. CO., 446 U. S. 142 (1980)

U.S. Supreme Court

Wengler v. Druggists Mut. Ins. Co., 446 U.S. 142 (1980)

Wengler v. Druggists Mutual Insurance Co.

No. 79-381

Argued February 25, 1980

Decided April 22, 1980

446 U.S. 142


Held: The provision of the Missouri workers' compensation laws denying a widower benefits on his wife's work-related death unless he either is mentally or physically incapacitated or proves dependence on his wife's earnings, but granting a widow death benefits without her having to prove dependence on her husband's earnings, violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Pp. 446 U. S. 147-152.

(a) The statute indisputably mandates gender-based discrimination and discriminates against both men and women. It discriminates against a woman, since, in the case of her death, benefits are payable to her spouse only if he meets the incapacity or dependency tests, whereas death benefits are automatically paid to a widow because dependency on her husband is conclusively presumed, a female wage earner thus being provided with less protection for her spouse on her work-related death than is provided for the widow of a deceased male wage earner. And the statute discriminates against a man who survives his wife's dying in a work-related accident because to receive benefits he, in contrast to a widow, must prove incapacity or dependency. Pp. 446 U. S. 147-149.

(b) To be justified, gender-based discriminations must serve important governmental objectives and the discriminatory means employed must be substantially related to the achievement of those objectives. Here, the claimed justification for not treating men and women alike -- that women are generally dependent on male wage earners and that it is more efficient to presume dependency in the case of women than to engage in case-by-case determination, whereas individualized inquiries in the few cases in which men might be dependent are not prohibitively costly -- is unsubstantiated, and thus cannot save the gender-based discrimination in question. Pp. 446 U. S. 150-152.

583 S.W.2d 162, reversed and remanded.

WHITE, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and BRENNAN, STEWART, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, and POWELL, JJ., joined. STEVENS, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, post, p. 446 U. S. 154. REHNQUIST, J., filed a dissenting statement, post, p. 446 U. S. 153.

Page 446 U. S. 143

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