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Attorney General Applauds Supreme Court Ruling Providing Equality for Women in the Workplace

State High Court Says Employers Who Provide Prescription Health Insurance Plans Must Cover Prescriptions for Contraceptives
Monday, March 1, 2004
Contact: (415) 703-5837

(SAN FRANCISCO) – Attorney General Bill Lockyer today praised a ruling by the California Supreme Court upholding a 1999 law requiring non-religious employers who provide prescription drug benefits to their employees also include insurance coverage for contraceptives approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

"This is a huge victory for working women in California," Lockyer said. "California courts have consistently ruled that non-religious employers cannot use religion to discriminate against women in the workplace. Today's ruling upholds the principle that all people, including women, must be treated as equals."

The California Legislature in 1999 enacted the California Women's Contraception Equity Act (WCEA) requiring employers to include contraceptives if they provide prescription health insurance plans. The law exempts religious organizations if they meet four critieria:

Inculcation of religious values is the purpose of the entity.
The entity primarily employs individuals who share its religious tenets.
The entity serves primarily individuals who share its religious tenets.
The entity is deemed a religious non-profit organization under the Internal Revenue Code.
The WCEA was challenged in July 2000 by Catholic Charities of Sacramento. Although Catholic Charities claims it is part of the Catholic Church, and it is affiliated with Roman Catholic Bishop of Sacramento, Inc., the Attorney General argued in briefs filed with the Supreme Court that it is a separately incorporated and administered organization and is not deemed a religious non-profit organization under the federal tax code. The Attorney General argued Catholic Charities is not exempt from the WCEA because it is a nonprofit public benefit corporation that receives substantial public funding and enters contracts with public agencies, it was not formed to inculcate religious values and it does not primarily employ or provide services to individuals who share the tenets of the Catholic Church.

In Catholic Charities of Sacramento v. Superior Court of Sacramento County, S099822, the Supreme Court today ruled that Catholic Charities does not qualify as a religious employer because it fails to meet any of the four criteria. The ruling affirms similar decisions by the trial and appellate courts.

"This landmark law provides exemptions for true religious organizations," Lockyer said. "The law provides equality for women who have paid an average of 68 percent more in out-of-pocket medical expenses than men, primarily because they pay $400-$500 annually for contraceptives. It is plainly discriminatory for health and disability insurance plans to not cover contraceptives that were approved by the FDA almost 40 years ago, yet offer coverage for Viagra as soon as that drug was approved by the FDA."

The court noted that evidence presented shows 75 percent of Catholic Charities' employees do not share their employer's religious views. Had Catholic Charities succeeded in creating a broad exemption, it would have been able to apply the tenets of the Roman Catholic church on the majority of its female employees who do not share that belief.

"By preventing secular employers from imposing a system of discriminatory health benefits upon their employees, while exempting religious employers whose beliefs are shared by their employees, the law accommodates religious freedom, while advancing compelling societal interests in equality, public health and safety and reproductive autonomy," Lockyer said.

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