Wal-Mart’s Women Employees Allege Gender Discrimination; Health Plans Face Growing Pressure to Cover Contraceptives
A US District judge in Atlanta recently awarded class-action status to a lawsuit charging Wal-Mart with gender discrimination for refusing to cover prescription contraceptives in its employee health plan. Judge Julie Carnes ruled that women employed after March 2001 who used prescription contraceptives were eligible for class-action status in the lawsuit filed by Wal-Mart service manager Lisa Smith Mauldin. The lawsuit seeks declaration that the retailer’s health plan is illegal as well as reimbursement for monies already spent on uninsured prescription birth control. However, the class-action status does not extend to employee spouses taking prescription contraceptives or women employees who did not take prescription contraceptives. Roughly 400,000 women out of 1 million employees are eligible to join the lawsuit, according to Mauldin’s lawyer George Stein.
In related news, Washington Attorney General Christine Gregoire supported the state’s mandate — implemented at the start of this year — requiring all state-regulated health plans with comprehensive drug policies to cover prescription contraceptives. "While we recognize the right to a conscientious objection, the legal opinion prevents that objection from standing in the way of a woman’s right to this vital and legal coverage," said Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler. "For years, women have paid significantly more out of their own pockets for health care than men…They should not have to confront this barrier to equitable treatment." In Washington state, 200,000 women now receive contraceptives coverage as a result of the new policy.
In a related story, George Washington University in Washington, D.C. augmented its student health plan to add prescription contraceptives coverage earlier this month. Lawyers from Planned Parenthood, the National Women’s Law Center, and Trial Lawyers for Public Justice submitted a complaint on behalf of law student Amy Moses, charging the University with sexual discrimination. The case is believed to be the first time changes to student health plans were sought after the 2001 federal decision by US District Judge Robert Lasnik who ruled that denial of prescription contraceptives coverage constitutes gender discrimination.
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Media Resources: Atlanta Journal-Constitution 8/31/02; Associated Press 8/13/02; Kaisernetwork.org 8/29/02, 9/3/02; Washington Post 8/29/02; Covermypills.com 9/3/02