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Commission Finds College Policy Discriminatory

The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) ruled that Belmont Abbey College discriminated against its employees on the basis of sex by denying them health care coverage of contraceptives. According to the Gaston Gazette, the complaint involved the college’s December 2007 decision to alter its employee health insurance plan by removing coverage for oral contraceptives, voluntary sterilization, and abortion.

According to Inside Higher Ed, eight faculty members filed a discrimination complaint with the EEOC after the health insurance coverage changes were announced. The complaint was originally denied, but this decision was reversed in late July, when the EEOC released a ruling that stated, “by denying prescription contraceptive drugs, [the college] is discriminating based on gender because only females take oral prescription contraceptives. By denying coverage, men are not affected, only women.” The commission also ruled that a charge of religious discrimination had no merit since all employees, regardless of their personal religious beliefs, were affected by the change in coverage.

The college’s president, William Thierfelder, retaliated against the complaint by sending an e-mail to the campus community identifying those who had filed the complaint. Victoria Mackey, a senior investigator with the EEOC, said that Thierfelder’s disclosure of names created “a chilling effect…on the campus whereby other faculty and staff members would be reluctant to file a charge of discrimination with the commission against the respondent for fear that their name would be in a memo from the president to faculty and staff at the college” reported Inside Higher Ed.

Belmont Abbey College is a Roman Catholic institution located in Belmont, North Carolina.

Sources:

EEOC Ruling 7/30/09; Gaston Gazette 8/5/09; Inside Higher Ed 8/11/09