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A national campaign to make employee health plans pay for contraceptives has reached Georgia now that an Atlanta area woman has sued Wal-Mart in a potential class action. Lisa Smith Mauldin, 22, of Dallas, Ga., has sued Wal-Mart, where she has worked since 1996, claiming that the company is violating federal regulations issued last year by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Mauldin v. Wal-Mart, No. 1:01-cv-2755 (N.D. Ga. Oct. 16, 2001). Mauldin, a divorced, single mother with two children, sued after she discovered that Wal-Mart’s employee health plan excluded coverage for prescription contraceptives, according to the complaint. As a result, Mauldin pays nearly $30 a month for birth control pills, the complaint states. Wal-Mart has nearly a million employees nationwide, according to the National Women’s Law Center in Washington, D.C. The class potentially could include all of Wal-Mart’s female employees and married male employees whose wives are covered by the plan. Mauldin is represented by Janine L. Pollack and Kirk E. Chapman of the New York firm Milberg Weiss Bershad Hynes & Lerach; Sigmund Wissner-Gross of New York firm Heller, Horowitz & Feit; and Atlanta attorney George A. Stein. The National Women’s Law Center, which is of counsel in the case, is a 30-year-old nonprofit organization that seeks to enact laws and policies that protect the rights of women and girls. Last year, the National Women’s Law Center, on behalf of 60 organizations, petitioned the EEOC to issue a ruling as to whether employers can exclude prescription contraceptives from employee health plans. In December, the EEOC ruled that the exclusion of prescription contraceptives from an otherwise comprehensive health plan violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Filings in the suit against Wal-Mart indicate the plaintiff will seek certification to represent all of the company’s employees as a class. Another such suit filed by the same New York firms and the National Women’s Law Center named the Bartell Drug Co. of Seattle as a defendant. Last June, a federal judge in Seattle determined that Bartell had violated federal law by excluding the cost of prescription contraceptives from prescription drug plans. Erickson v. Bartell Drug. Co., No. C00-1213L (W.D. Wash. June 12, 2001). In conjunction with the suits, the Law Center also sponsors a national educational campaign, Pills4Us, to alert employers across the country to the EEOC’s ruling. Marcia Greenberger, an attorney and the National Women’s Law Center’s co-president, says that several factors brought the issue to the fore. “Over the years, it became more and more common for health insurance plans to cover prescription drugs,” she says. “That was a trend that really, I think, came upon us without a lot of focus on the fact that contraceptives weren’t included.” But, she says, when Viagra — the male anti-impotence drug — came on the market, “and the common reaction was that, of course, it was included [in a health plan], that really caught people’s attention. The unfairness of the automatic inclusion of Viagra and the routine exclusion of contraception made people stop and think.” Greenberger says that since the EEOC ruling last December, some employers across the United States have voluntarily changed their health plans to include the cost of contraceptives. “The costs, at best, are minimal,” she says. “But, as is often the case, when you have to change old patterns, not everybody voluntarily does the right thing. … We hope that Wal-Mart, too, will do the right thing.”

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