The case Weinberger v. Wiesenfeld arose after a widower, Steven C. Wiesenfeld (“Wiesenfeld”) was denied his Social Security survivor benefits upon his wife’s death during childbirth. Wiesenfeld opted not to work (outside the home) in order to raise their child. His wife, Paula Polatschek, had been the principal wage earner during their marriage. She was a teacher and always had the maximum Social Security contribution deducted from her paycheck. The Social Security Act had a provision, however, that stated fathers (unlike mothers) were ineligible to collect benefits upon their spouse’s death. So Wiesenfeld sued the Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, Caspar Weinberger, claiming that the gender-based discrimination was unconstitutional. On January 20, 1975, Ruth Bader Ginsburg (the current senior Supreme Court Justice) represented Wiesenfeld before the United States Supreme Court. You can listen to her argument at http://www.oyez.org/cases/1970-1979/1974/1974_73_1892. On March 19, 1975, the Court agreed that the provision was discriminatory.
Justice Brennan explained, “by providing dissimilar treatment for men and women who are…similarly situated, the challenged section violates the [Due Process] Clause.”