Friday, March 16, 2007

Union Pacific Wins Case to Deny Contraception Coverage

Yesterday, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Union Pacific's policy excluding contraceptives from its health plan does not discriminate against women. The Court's ruling stated that, "Union Pacific's health plans do not cover any contraception used by women such as birth control, sponges, diaphragms, intrauterine devices or tubal ligations or any contraception used by men such as condoms and vasectomies. Therefore, the coverage provided to women is not less favorable than that provided to men."

Female employees of Union Pacific sued the company for sex discrimination under Title VII amendment, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, and a district court granted a partial summary judgment in July 2005. Union Pacific appealed the ruling, which the 8th Circuit Court reversed with this decision. The Court decided that the PDA does not apply, because contraceptive use occurs prior to, or to prevent, pregnancy, and so is not related to pregnancy discrimination, and that because contraception is not covered for men or women, it is gender neutral and not sex discrimination.

The dissenting judge (Bye) in the 2-1 ruling disagreed with the gender neutrality of the policy, stating that:
When one looks at the medical effect of Union Pacific’s failure to provide insurance coverage for prescription contraception, the inequality of coverage is clear. This failure only medically affects females, as they bear all of the health consequences of unplanned pregnancies. An insurance policy providing comprehensive coverage for preventative medical care, including coverage for preventative prescription drugs used exclusively by males, but fails to cover prescription contraception used exclusively by females, can hardly be called equal. It just isn't so...even if we were to look at its exclusion of coverage for vasectomies, the policy nonetheless discriminates against females. When a policy excludes coverage for vasectomies, the medical effect of this exclusion is born entirely by women, as the record demonstrates women are the only gender which can become pregnant...Women are uniquely and specifically disadvantaged by Union Pacific’s failure to cover prescription contraception. Because I believe such a policy is violative of Title VII, as amended by the PDA, I respectfully dissent.
The Court's Opinion [PDF]

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