Friday, August 14, 2009

EEOC Seeks Conciliation with Belmont Abbey over Denial of Oral Contraceptive Coverage and Retaliation

Eeoc According to the Gaston (North Carolina) Gazette, the EEOC has issued a letter to Belmont Abbey, making a determination that the Catholic college discriminated against women by removing coverage for prescription contraceptives from the health insurance plan and by publishing the names of faculty members who filed a charge with the EEOC.
From the article,

Contraception, abortion and voluntary sterilization came off Belmont Abbey College’s faculty health-care policy in December 2007 after a faculty member discovered that coverage, according to an e-mail that college President Bill Thierfelder sent to staff, students, alumni and friends of the college.

“By denying prescription contraception drugs, Respondent (the college) is discriminating based on gender because only females take oral prescription contraceptives,” wrote Reuben Daniels Jr., the EEOC Charlotte District Office director, in the determination. “By denying coverage, men are not affected, only women.”

. . .

David Neipert, a former associate professor who filed charges against the college, said he was glad of the outcome but concerned for the employees who remained there.

“I think the memo naming us was a pretty mean approach,” Neipert said.

The problems caused from the contraception issue caused him to seek out another job.

“I was labeled as someone who promoted abortion in a Catholic community,” Neipert said. “In my opinion, that’s a lot of damage.”

Neipert said the concern was solely about contraception, but others focused on abortion and contraception as word spread in Catholic circles. The Senior Fulbright Scholar in law said he tried to warn the college that they should get a lawyer’s counsel before taking away contraception and thought that would be the end of the issue.

“I thought that they’d say, ‘OK, we’ll pay for pills,” Neipert said.

The EEOC had found no cause on the discrimination issue, but cause on the retaliation claim in March, but decided to reconsider the discrimination claim in April. The President of the college issued this statement:

“We are disappointed that this matter has taken this very unusual twist, but we remain committed to ensuring that all of the College’s policies and practices follow the teachings of the Catholic Church, which includes valuing all life and treating individuals with dignity and respect, and providing equal opportunities for all,” Thierfelder wrote in a statement. “Belmont Abbey College disagrees with the EEOC’s new discrimination determination as well as with the retaliation determination the EEOC issued in March of 2009, and does not believe that it has discriminated against or retaliated against anyone. The College is confident that its actions ultimately will be found to be in compliance with all federal and state laws and with the U.S. Constitution. Accordingly, the College will be asking the EEOC to reconsider each of the current determinations it has made in connection with the charges filed against the College.”

The lower courts are split on this issue, some finding that prescription contraception is not related to pregnancy, and so not covered by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act's amendment to Title VII. Others have found that the lack of coverage impacts men and women the same because prescription contraception isn't covered for the female dependents of male employees either. In my view, this is sex discrimination. Prescription contraception is only available for women, and is one of very few ways that women themselves can control when and whether to have children. And having children has a huge impact on a woman's working life, so that female employees are in a position different from female dependents vis a vis work for this employer.

For an excellent and detailed analysis of the issue, check out Alyson L. Cantrell, Weaving Prescription Benefit Plans into the Birds and the Bees Talk: How an Employer-Provided Insurance Plan that Denies Coverage for Prescription Contraception is Sex Discrimination under Title VII as Amended by the PDA, 39 Cumb. L. Rev. 239 (2008-09).

Hat tip: Jamie Prenkert

MM

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Comments

I remember the promises made for the pill in the 60's. Every child a loved and wanted child, women freed to assume full equality with men, intimate marriages that will drive divorce rates to stunning lows, no need for abortion as the child was wanted,a new respect for women on the part of men ad infinitum. I forget the name of the nobel winner but there is an article on the brookings website on the Reproductive Technology Shock that's quite interesting. It's really amusing in that it lays out how we descended into our present sewer and yet wants even more. A true believer.

Posted by: jack | Aug 22, 2009 4:15:06 AM

Women do have a right to equal access to employment opportunity. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, therefore, should be concerned to protect that access. Does Belmont Abbey College's decision to be true to Catholic teaching, which is the whole reason for the college's existence in the first place, deny any woman the right to equal employment opportunity? I think not. Each woman and each man seeking employment with the college is on an equal plane: both must pledge that in their personal and professional lives they will be true to the Catholic faith. As such, no college employee should want insurance coverage to pay for violation of that faith, and the college should not be required to fund activities which run directly contrary to its principles. If a person wants contraception, they are free to fund that on their own, or get employment at a public school since they long ago have given up any moral principles at all.

Posted by: John | Aug 25, 2009 2:45:36 PM

What gives you the idea, John, that each man and woman seeking employment with the college must make a pledge to be true to the Catholic faith in their personal and professional lives? They certainly don't. In fact, some of the complainants were assured that their lack of Catholic faith would not be a problem.

I think the question here is: what is a religious institution for the purpose of compliance with EEOC regulations and State Contraceptive Equity Statutes? Both permit religious exemptions, but, on the face of it, a college that caters to a majority non-Catholic student body, and which employs a majority of non-Catholics, probably wouldn't qualify for a religious exemption. From a public policy standpoint, you don't want these religious exemptions to be too broad, or every kook who runs a school and claims to have some however tenuous connection with a church will claim one, even if he or she is the only member of their 'religion'. Also remember that a large part of Belmont Abbey's funding comes from state and federal sources (federal grants and student loans), i.e...from taxpayers who might not agree with the idea that their dollars are funding what they might view as discrimination.

Posted by: Glaucon | Oct 3, 2009 5:55:54 AM

I am not sure how not having insurance that pays for something that cost $30 per month can be considered discriminatory. Maybe the college could just cut all prescription drug coverage and then add a flex spending health account feature to let people pay for the drugs they want out of that.

I find it especially illogical that a firm under no affirmative duty to provide health coverage at all can be considered discriminatory for having partial health coverage that does not please some vocal subset of its employees.

Posted by: jkoerner | Oct 8, 2009 6:18:13 AM

Belmont Abbey College is a legal "Religious Exempt" College promising the separation of Church and State. The government has no right to impose mandates on insurnace coverage. Just as the government would be quick to jump on eliminating a Christmas Manger scene for the same rule, the reverse works as well. As a religious exempt institution, Belmont Abbey College has the right to decide what insurnace coverage they want to fund. The government has no right to take away the College's religious liberty and mandate the option to kill children and prevent pregnacy. EEOC is dead wrong here. The six individual that started this suit are working another agenda and we all know it. This is about breaking down religion towards its elimination; controlling humanity and populations; handing government control to Obama and working towards socialism/communism. Religious liberty is worth fighting for. Our founders wrote the constitution to secure our religious freedom. EEOC is not going to survive this intrusion. As for the six people that started all this. Shame on you!! You knew the foundation of the faith when yo took the job, but with the election of Obama, you felt the timing was right to make your move to promote Obama's radical "agenda." God help you in the end. If I were you, I'd ask for prayers. You're gonna need them.

Posted by: Gina Marie Mangiamele | Nov 17, 2009 5:36:15 AM

May I point out that after the Notre Dame/Obama debacle that it is imperative that Catholic schools guard against going down the road of accomadation with the secular/pagan culture? Fr. Hesburgh started the mess at Notre Dame over contraception.
Young people are extremely observant - a hint of not being as advertised and you erode your standing as a role mdel. Catholic parents who want to keep their kids Catholic find Belmont Abbey's uncompromising standards an answer to lots of prayers.

Posted by: Barbara | Nov 21, 2009 11:36:13 PM

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