Legal / Federal Action

Judge Rules Ban on Contraceptive Coverage is Discriminatory

U.S. District Judge Laurie Smith Camp in Omaha, NE, ruled 22July05 that Union Pacific Railroad — which employs about 49,000 workers nationwide, including 1,300 women — illegally discriminated against female employees by not providing contraceptive coverage in its health plans.

Although Smith Camp did not order the company to begin covering contraceptives, she said Union Pacific’s policy violated the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employers with 15 or more employees from discrimination based on gender or pregnancy.

The class-action lawsuit — which was filed by two female Union Pacific employees, who were represented by Planned Parenthood of Western Washington — sought to require the company to provide coverage for FDA-approved prescription contraceptives for women employees and the female family members of male employees covered by the company’s policies.

Smith Camp ruled that the health plan policy was discriminatory because it covered many preventive health medications — including drugs for erectile dysfunction — but not contraception (O’Hanlon, AP/Yahoo! News, 7/25).

The company argued that it did not need to provide contraceptive coverage “because fertility is ‘normal'” therefore birth control is not “medically necessary.”

In her ruling, Smith Camp acknowledged that fertility is normal but added, “There is also no doubt that pregnancy is a condition that has a profound impact on a woman’s health.”

Later rulings will determine what Union Pacific must change about its current policies in order to comply with the Civil Rights Act. Union Pacific spokesperson Mark Davis said the company likely will appeal the ruling (AP/Yahoo! News, 7/25).

Davis said the company’s union during its most recent labor agreement agreed to not provide contraceptives in its negotiated health care plan

[Los Angeles Times, 7/26; Kaiser Daily Reproductive Report (not prolife), 7/27/05: 5. Federal Judge Rules Union Pacific Discriminated Against Female Employees by Barring Contraceptive Coverage, http://www.kaisernetwork.org/daily_reports/rep_index.cfm?DR_ID=31645; Sorid, Reuters, 7/25; N Valko RN, 29July05]