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Respect for Marriage Act Would Protect Same-Sex Couples’ Company Benefits

The Respect for Marriage Act would preserve the company benefits of same-sex couples. The legislation, which passed the US Senate on November 29, was inspired by concerns that the US Supreme Court might reconsider its landmark same-sex marriage decision.

In this SHRM articleMcDermott Partner Todd Solomon noted that federal and state law no longer distinguish between same-sex or opposite-sex marriages.

“Same-sex spouses must be extended spousal benefit coverage by employers” for fully insured health plans, Solomon said.

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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 [...]

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Legal Risks Loom For Employers Protecting Abortion Access

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.”

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US Supreme Court to Hear Whistleblower’s False Claims Act Suit

The US Supreme Court will hear a whistleblower’s False Claims Act suit that the US Department of Justice (DOJ) had previously moved to throw out. In this Law360 article, McDermott Partner Tony Maida offers perspective about the DOJ’s 2018 Granston memo.

“It does not make sense for the government to need to justify its decision to dismiss a case brought on its behalf,” Maida said. “Reducing the ability of DOJ to dismiss cases would erase some of those positive results of the Granston memo.”

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How the Overturning of Roe v. Wade May Affect US Employer Benefits Plans

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.

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Texas Abortion-related Litigation ‘just getting started’

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.”

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What Should GCs Know About the Abortion Landscape?

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.”

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How Can Employers Protect Workers Who Seek Abortion Care?

As US states seek to reduce abortion access in the wake of the overturning of Roe v. Wade, how can employers protect workers who seek abortion care? In this Fortune article, McDermott’s David Gacioch, Sarah Raaii and Ellen Bronchetti offer insight into what the US Supreme Court’s decision means for employee healthcare data, employee benefits and Title VII.

“Any employer who doesn’t already have an assessment of what the end of Roe means for its operations and workforce…needs to get in front of this,” Gacioch said.

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Hospitals Shouldn’t Expect Quick Pay Despite 340B Win

340B hospitals should not expect to receive withheld program funds anytime soon despite a recent US Supreme Court ruling. According to this Becker’s Hospital Review article, the Court reversed a 2020 federal appeals court ruling that found that the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) had the authority to make a $1.6 billion annual reimbursement cut to the program under its Medicare Outpatient Prospective Payment System (OPPS). McDermott Partner Emily J. Cook said that the ruling will not result in any immediate changes to Medicare payments for 340B drugs nor require that HHS restore the full payment rates for the drugs.

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Fired for Having an Abortion? Unlikely, but It’s Complicated

Could a worker be fired for having an abortion? According to this Insider article, workplace laws would likely protect pregnant people from discrimination. McDermott’s Sarah Raaii said employers should make sure abortion health plan coverage does not conflict with federal laws.

“Incorporating abortion benefits into an employer’s existing health plan might help mitigate worker privacy concerns,” Raaii said, “since health plans are subject to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).”

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