Magazine article Drug Topics

Seattle R.Ph. Stars in Landmark Rx Contraceptives Lawsuit

Magazine article Drug Topics

Seattle R.Ph. Stars in Landmark Rx Contraceptives Lawsuit

Article excerpt

What started out as a quiet effort to persuade her employer to add contraceptives to its prescription plan ended with a Seattle pharmacist's being the lead plaintiff in a landmark class action lawsuit that recently made national headlines.

After Jennifer Erickson, 26, was hired by Bartell Drug Co. in February 1999, she began asking her employer to include oral contraceptives in its self-funded Rx benefit. She thinks the 48-store drugstore chain is a good place to work, but it just didn't seem fair that it won't pay for contraceptives, especially when two-thirds of its employees are women. She contacted the local Planned Parenthood chapter for help writing letters. But when management continued to turn her down, she filed a sexual discrimination complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission last December. Then Planned Parenthood offered her legal representation free of charge, and the groundbreaking class action lawsuit was filed July 19 in the U.S. District Court in the Western District of Washington. It seeks to set a national precedent by forcing an employer to provide employees with contraceptive coverage.

"Planned Parenthood said, 'We think you're great because you're a pharmacist and a good spokesperson for this,' "Erickson said. "But there are other cases in the pipeline, I was just the first one. The hardest part was when I filed the EEOC complaint. That was the big step for me. That's when I said, 'I can't believe I'm doing this.' That's when I knew and they knew, but it wasn't until July when everyone else knew"

When Planned Parenthood unveiled the lawsuit in July, Erickson was thrust into the limelight, wearing a new navy blue suit she had purchased to replace her usual work attire of black slacks and white shirt. At the press conference, she said that, as a pharmacist, it's frustrating to turn away women whose insurance covers pregnancy and abortion but not birth control. It also galled her that she has to pay out of pocket for her own contraceptives.

Bartell Drug, America's oldest family-owned drug chain, responded to the suit with a statement. The 110year-old firm offers employees a free health plan, but no plan covers every possible cost, said CFO Jean Bartell Barber. She added that the health plan is lawful and non discriminatory.

On the scent of a good story with a young, articulate, and photogenic heroine, an "ABC Evening News" crew trooped into Erickson's pharmacy for an on-camera session. "They wanted to interview me and I said, 'I can't leave, I have to fill prescriptions; no, no, I have to be here when the pharmacy is open,"' she said, laughing. …

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