• Class Seeking Contraceptive Coverage Certified Against Wal-Mart
  • April 30, 2003 | Author: Amy Wright Littrell
  • Law Firm: Ford & Harrison LLP - Tampa Office
  • A federal district court in Atlanta has granted class action status to a group of female Wal-Mart employees who claim the exclusion of contraceptive coverage from the company's health insurance policy violates Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The class represents all female Wal-Mart employees nationwide who are or have been covered by the company's health insurance plan at any time after March 8, 2001, who used prescription contraceptives.

    The class is not as broad as that requested by the plaintiffs. The court held that spouses of male employees are not appropriate class members because they have no standing to sue Wal-Mart under Title VII, since they are not Wal-Mart employees. Additionally, the court excluded women who "wished to use" contraceptives during the covered period but did not do so. According to the plaintiffs' attorney, the class will cover approximately 28% of Wal-Mart's workforce. See Judge Grants Female Wal-Mart Employees Class Status Challenging Contraceptive Policy, Daily Lab. Report [BNA], p. AA-1, September 9, 2002.

    The plaintiffs claim Wal-Mart's failure to cover prescription contraceptives treated medication for a pregnancy-related condition less favorably than medication for other medical conditions. Wal-Mart denied any discrimination and calls the plan an effort to balance coverage with affordability. Id. The court's decision granting class status to the employees is not a decision on the merits. The plaintiffs must still prove that Wal-Mart's policy violates Title VII in order to prevail. However, defending class action claims can be a daunting task, especially where, as here, the certified class covers employees nationwide.

    This suit follows an EEOC policy statement issued in December 2001, in which the EEOC stated that the Pregnancy Discrimination Act amendments to Title VII require employers to provide the same insurance coverage for prescription contraceptives that they do for other drugs used to prevent the occurrence of medical conditions other than pregnancy. At least one federal court has found that an employer's policy that excludes contraceptive coverage when other types of preventative services are covered violates Title VII. See Erikson v. Bartell Drug Co. If the plaintiffs prevail on the merits of this case, other employers may be faced with similar claims.