ACLU of Wisconsin Wins Health Insurance Coverage of Birth Control for County Employees

Affiliate: ACLU of Wisconsin
September 12, 2006 12:00 am

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ACLU of Wisconsin Wins Health Insurance Coverage of Birth Control for County Employees

MILWAUKEE – The American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin announced today that three Marathon County employees have won the right to health insurance coverage for prescription contraceptives. The decision highlights the ways in which the county’s refusal to pay for contraception was illegal sex discrimination.

On September 8, 2006, an Administrative Law Judge in the Wisconsin Equal Rights Division concluded: “Marathon County violated the Wisconsin Fair Employment Act when it excluded from coverage, under its employee health insurance plan, prescription contraceptives, except when medically necessary.” The decision requires the county to pay for the women’s prescription contraceptives and to pay the attorneys fees and costs of the litigation.

“Judge Gary Olstad’s decision is consistent with the rulings of lower federal courts and the federal Equal Employment Opportunities Commission in concluding that excluding birth control from otherwise comprehensive drug coverage is a form of sex discrimination,” said Larry Dupuis, Legal Director of the ACLU of Wisconsin. “Such an exclusion harms women, who bear the physical burdens of an unplanned pregnancy, but not men, who do not bear those burdens. The decision also builds on the recent opinion by the Wisconsin attorney general that the Wisconsin Fair Employment law forbids discrimination against individuals who take contraceptives to prevent pregnancy.”

As Judge Olstad’s decision logically explained: “Pregnancy is a medical condition. . . . Only women can become pregnant. Contraceptives are prescribed primarily to prevent pregnancy. [Marathon County’ prescription drug plan] includes coverage for sundry prescription medications designed to prevent various medical conditions but excludes prescription contraceptives. . . . [F]ailure to provide prescription contraceptives, while, at the same time, providing other prescription medications of a preventive nature, constitutes discrimination because of gender with respect to compensation within the meaning of the Wisconsin Fair Employment Act.”

“Family planning is essential to all women, including working women,” said Brenda Burnett, one of the county employees in the case. “I hope that other employers will recognize the unfairness of excluding contraceptives from coverage without the need to resort to the legal process.”

The ACLU of Wisconsin was joined by cooperating counsel Steve Robinson of Wausau and Rebecca Salawdeh of the Milwaukee law firm of Urban & Taylor in arguing the case.

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