R.Ph. Wins Suit Covering Contraceptives for Women

Article excerpt

If pharmacies want to hire and retain female workers, more of them should include coverage of prescription contraception in their health plans, suggested the pharmacist who won a sexual discrimination lawsuit premised on her employer's failure to provide such coverage.

"Most of the people coming out of pharmacy school today are women," said Jennifer Erickson, a 27-year-old Purdue University graduate employed by the Bartell Drug Co. in Seattle. "And, we want to be able [to wait] for at least five years or for however long before we start a family. Maybe [the decision] will help with the [pharmacist] shortage."

On June 12, a U.S. District Court in Seattle ruled that the 111-year-old Bartell chain had discriminated against its female employees by not covering prescription contraceptives when it covered other prescription drugs, devices, and preventive care.

"Although the plan covers almost all drugs and devices used by men, the exclusion of prescription contraceptives creates a gaping hole in the coverage offered to female employees, leaving a fundamental and immediate healthcare need uncovered," said Judge Robert S. Lasnik. He found that the 50-store, family-owned chain had not intended to discriminate. Rather, the exclusion was "an unquestioned holdover from a time when employer-related benefits were doled out less equitably than they are today."

The ruling went on to say, "Male and female employees have different sex-based disability and healthcare needs, and the law is no longer blind to the fact that only women can get pregnant, bear children, or use prescription contraception."

Roberta Riley, a staff attorney with Planned Parenthood who represented Erickson, said, "This historic lawsuit was filed on behalf of women whose basic healthcare needs are not being covered by their employer." Commented Gloria Feldt, president of Planned Parenthood, "Prescription birth control is basic health care for women, and the failure to cover birth control is sex discrimination, plain and simple."

Jean Bartell Barber, the chain's CFO and granddaughter of the founder, said that Erickson's request for birth control coverage was the only one the company had ever received on the topic. "Our plans have provided tremendous benefits to all our employees, so far, at no up-front cost to them," she said. She noted that Bartell had extended the contraceptive benefit to union employees last April 1 and would do so for non-union workers, including Erickson. …