U.S. District Judge Julie Carnes said Friday that all women working for Wal-Mart after March 2001 could pursue claims against their employer if they were using prescription contraceptives. The lawsuit alleges that Wal-Mart’s denial of health insurance coverage for birth control discriminates against women under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.
Such suits have been cropping up around the country since a June 2001 ruling against Seattle-based drugstore chain Bartell Drug (see Employer Must Cover Birth Control, including a lawsuit filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) last May (see Dow Jones Journalists Bring Discrimination Suit).
Lisa Smith Mauldin, a 23-year-old customer-service manager at a Wal-Mart store in Hiram, Georgia, filed the lawsuit in October asking the court to declare the company’s health plan illegal and to order Wal-Mart to reimburse her and other employees for uninsured prescription contraceptives.
Mauldin’s lawyer, George Stein, called the judge’s decision to grant class-action status “a major victory for the working women of America.” He said the company saves about $5 million a month by denying birth control coverage.
Mauldin, who began working for Wal-Mart in August 1996, enrolled in the company’s heath care plan in February 2000. She says she bought the $32-a-month prescription contraceptives when she could afford them, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Wal-Mart has about 1 million employees, about 80% of whom are women. Stein estimated that as many as 400,000 women are eligible to join the lawsuit.
On the other hand, Wal-Mart attorney Mark Casciari noted that the judge had yet to address the merits of the lawsuit. Casciari also noted that while Mauldin’s lawyers asked the judge to allow male employees with spouses who use birth control to join the class, Carnes denied that.
“For that reason, I don’t see this as a major victory for anybody,” Casciari told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
The company is reviewing the ruling and hasn’t decided whether to appeal, Wal-Mart spokesman Bill Wertz said Saturday.
See also: Cover My Pills
Also: Dow Jones Journalists Bring Discrimination Suit