Companies are taking a fresh look at their privacy policies in the wake of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. According to this Law360 article, policymakers are putting more pressure on companies to tighten their restrictions on collecting and disclosing personal health and location data.
Numerous states—including North Dakota, Hawaii, Indiana, Texas and New Hampshire—have been busy finalizing rulemaking and legislation impacting healthcare providers, telehealth and digital health companies, pharmacists and technology companies that deliver and facilitate virtual care. What have these states been up to over the last month?
Employers Seek Clarity on Reproductive Healthcare Benefits Litigation Following EEOC Commissioner Filing
Following the US Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, many employers extended travel benefits to women residing in states where abortion or reproductive health procedures may now be unlawful. Recently, US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) Commissioner Andrea Lucas filed a Commissioner’s Charge against at least three companies alleging that doing so violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). Although these charges are not public, it’s believed they mirror a letter that Sharon Fast Gustafson, the former EEOC General Counsel, recently sent en masse to employers around the country also alleging such travel programs violate federal anti-discrimination laws. The EEOC has since issued a statement that Gustafson’s views are her own and do not necessarily reflect those of the EEOC.
When Title VII was amended in 1978 by the Pregnancy Act amendments, language was added requiring pregnancy, childbirth and related medical conditions be treated equally with other medical conductions under an employer’s “fringe benefit programs.” Lucas asserts that providing travel benefits for those seeking abortions provides preferential treatment to women, thus constituting gender discrimination. Her contention is also that travel benefits further implicate religious discrimination by favoring those who terminate pregnancies over those who, for religious reasons, carry a child to term. Her final contention is that the provision of travel benefits violates the ADA, which she claims requires parity of benefits for those with physical disabilities.
Employers are now asking whether Lucas’ and Gustafson’s position may be the beginning of litigation by the EEOC or private plaintiffs and whether they can take measures to address the legal arguments being raised.
First, it is doubtful the EEOC will be suing. While Title VII and the ADA authorize a single commissioner to file a Commissioner’s Charge, that Charge will be investigated like any other Charge of Discrimination. If cause is found, EEOC procedure requires in cases garnering public attention (which this most certainly is) that litigation may only be commenced if a majority of the Commissioners (minus the Commissioner who brought the Charge) vote in favor of doing so. In the absence of a quorum, then only the General Counsel of the EEOC may initiate suit. At this time, Lucas would not appear to have such votes.
Second, employers can and should draft around these contentions to prepare for private suits. Specifically, such travel benefits should cover not only abortion and/or reproductive health, but also all covered services or procedures that are unavailable within a covered individual’s state of residence or area, regardless of the individual’s gender, pregnancy or childbirth status, or disability status. This would make the benefits “available” to everyone.
Finally, there is a suggestion that, even with such drafting, this travel benefit will still be utilized primarily by non-Christian women, thus supporting a disparate impact claim based on religious discrimination. This is an overreach. Title VII claims require an adverse employment action such as an employee who requests but is denied a travel benefit due [...]
US employers are taking steps to provide abortion access to workers despite threats from anti-abortion activists and conservative lawmakers. In this Law360 article, McDermott’s Sarah Raaii said that “we’re certainly continuing to monitor” threats against employers.
“And we’re now in the position — really an unprecedented position for employers — of having to potentially look at 50 different states’ very specifically written laws regarding reproductive health care,” Raaii said. “Some states require some type of coverage, some states prohibit it. So it’s become a lot more burdensome for employers.”
The US Supreme Court’s ruling overturning Roe v. Wade has created more complexity to the country’s patchwork of abortion laws. In this Managed Healthcare Executive article, McDermott’s Sarah Raaii offers perspective about how insurers are navigating healthcare plans state-by-state.
The US Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade has led to a flurry of confusion and questions from employers. In this Benefits Canada article, McDermott’s Sarah Raaii explains how some states are imposing criminal penalties for anyone who assists with abortion within their borders.
“If a court determines state abortion restrictions are generally applicable criminal laws, then potentially, ERISA (Employee Retirement Income Security Act) plans can be subject to criminal penalties if they provide abortion services, including travel benefits,” Raaii said.
Doctors across the country are encountering a minefield of legal risks as they navigate a post-Roe reality. In this Axios article, McDermott Partner Scott Weinstein offers perspective on the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and health information disclosure.
It was a busy end of August for abortion-related litigation in Texas. Multiple pro-reproductive justice nonprofit groups sued Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and other prosecutors to protect the ability of pregnant Texans to obtain abortions in outside states, and Texas’ new trigger ban law went into effect. In this MedCity News article, McDermott Partner Caroline Reignley notes how the US Supreme Court’s landmark Dobbs decision “did not end the debate over abortion or limit court intervention.”
How can companies provide abortion travel benefits to their workers without disclosing sensitive medical information? In this Corporate Counsel article, McDermott’s Sarah Raaii provides insight into how the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) offer protections for workers seeking reproductive healthcare services.
“The most common way that we’ve seen employers offering these abortion benefits is to include them in their existing ERISA health plans, in which case they [the plans] would be subject to HIPAA,” Raaii said.
What should company general counsels (GCs) know about abortion trigger bans, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and how not to break the law in light of the new abortion landscape in the United States? In this MedCity News article, McDermott’s Sarah Raaii offers insight into how companies can protect abortion access for workers.
“One thing that GCs and employers should do is closely track any new state developments in a state you have business interests in,” Raaii said. “And if you have employees all over, unfortunately that could mean keeping track of 50 different states laws because it’s as simple as ‘this state does or doesn’t prohibit abortion,’ there’s different levels of protection.”