Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Court Rules That Insurance Coverage Can Exclude Birth Control Pills

The Union Pacific Railroad Company did not discriminate against its female employees by excluding birth-control pills from its health insurance coverage, according to a federal appellate panel in St. Louis.

In the first federal appellate ruling on the issue, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit ruled 2 to 1 on Thursday that because the railroad’s health insurance plans did not cover any types of contraception, for men or women, it did not violate the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, part of the federal law forbidding discrimination in employment.

“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,” the opinion said. “Therefore, the coverage provided to women is not less favorable than that provided to men.”

Thursday’s ruling grew out of several sex-discrimination lawsuits by female Union Pacific employees who used prescription contraception, including two railroad engineers, Brandi Standridge of Idaho and Kenya Phillips of Missouri. The suits were consolidated into a class-action suit on behalf of all the railroad’s females employees who used prescription contraception without insurance reimbursement.

In July 2005, a federal district court in Nebraska ruled in favor of the plaintiffs and ordered Union Pacific to cover all prescription contraception approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

Under Thursday’s ruling, the company could end that coverage. But a spokesman for Union Pacific, the nation’s largest rail line with more than 50,000 workers, said yesterday that the coverage would continue.
“We’re not going to take it away,” the spokesman, Mark Davis, said. The ruling covers all of the railroad’s unionized female employees.

The two appellate judges who ruled in favor of Union Pacific, Raymond W. Gruender III and Pasco M. Bowman II, were both appointed by Republican presidents, Judge Gruender by President Bush, and Judge Bowman by President Ronald Reagan.
The dissenter, Judge Kermit E. Bye, was appointed by President Bill Clinton, a Democrat...

The rest of this New York Times story is here.