Friday, August 14, 2009
EEOC Seeks Conciliation with Belmont Abbey over Denial of Oral Contraceptive Coverage and Retaliation
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