Posts Tagged ‘Patient Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’

A provision of the Affordable Care Act  commonly referred to as the “preventive services mandate” requires employers to provide employee health plans that cover, without cost to the employee, contraceptives, abortifacients, abortion, and sterilization.  In Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius, a closely held, secular, for-profit corporation, operated by a family of the Mennonite faith, claimed that compliance with that the Affordable Care Act’s preventive services mandate violated the corporation’s sincerely held religious beliefs.

This raised an issue of first impression for the U.S. District Court of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania as to whether a secular, for-profit corporation has religious rights under the First Amendment.  Although federal district and appeals courts are split on the issue of whether secular corporations have a right to challenge the validity of the preventive services mandate, the Eastern District held that a corporation does not possess such a right based upon: (1) a lack of historical support for the proposition that a secular, for-profit corporation possesses the right to free exercise of religion (in other words, religious rights are purely personal guarantees that have only been extended to individuals); and (2) an adherence to the corporate form.

In the Conestoga Wood case, the corporation unsuccessfully argued that it should be considered the alter egos of its shareholders, all of whom practice the Mennonite faith.  In rejecting this argument, the court stated that it would be entirely inconsistent to allow the shareholders to enjoy the benefits and protections of incorporation while simultaneously piercing the corporate veil for the limited purpose of challenging the preventive services mandate.

The court further reasoned that because the ultimate and deeply private choice to use an abortifacient contraceptive rests not with the shareholders of the corporation, but with the corporation’s employees, any burdens imposed upon the employer by the regulations would be too attenuated to be considered substantial.  Moreover, the court stated that the regulations apply to the employer corporation, not to the shareholders individually.  Accordingly, the court said that whatever burden the shareholders may feel from being involved with a for-profit corporation that provides health insurance that could possibly be used to pay for contraceptives, is too indirect of a burden to be considered substantial under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

This article is authored by attorney Shannon O. Young and is intended for educational purposes and to give you general information and a general understanding of the law only, not to provide specific legal advice. Any particular questions should be directed to your legal counsel or, if you do not have one, please feel free to contact us.

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Not too long ago, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“PPACA”) amended the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) to require employers to provide reasonable beak time for employees to express breast milk for nursing children and I immediately envisioned a slew of lawsuits related to this new requirement.  Under the PPACA, employers are required to provide employees with a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public.  For many employers this is easier said than done as many work environments present obvious challenges.  For example, where do employees pump when they are at construction sites, traveling in a car (particularly with a sales partner), or on a plane (think pilots and flight attendants)?

In Salz v. Casey’s Marketing Company, an employee working at a convenience store (a work environment not particularly conducive to pumping) returned from maternity leave and requested a private and secure place where she could express milk.   The employer allowed the employee to use a store office.  However, while expressing milk in the store office, the employee discovered that there was a functioning video camera in the room.  The employee alleged that she had never been told about the camera and she conveyed her discomfort about its presence.  According to the employee, the company failed to meaningfully respond to her complaint about the camera.  The company allegedly refused to disable the camera and simply told the employee to place a plastic bag over the video camera while she was pumping milk.

Thereafter, the employee was unable to relax with the camera in the office and experienced reduced milk production.  The employee alleged that when she complained, the company retaliated against her by reprimanding her for failing to fill an ice cream machine, failing to put hot dogs on the grill, and leaving dirty dishes.

Eventually the employee quit her job and filed a lawsuit in Iowa state court alleging that the company had denied her the right to express her milk in a secure and private place as required by PPCA’s amendment to the FLSA, that the company violated her common law right to privacy under Iowa law by installing and operating a camera in a room where the company knew she was expressing milk, and she asserted the company constructively discharged her in violation of the FLSA in retaliation for her complaints.  (Note: even though she quit, the law sometimes deems a company to have discharged an employee where it makes life for the employee so bad that the employee essentially has no other option but to quit).

The case was removed to federal court where the judge dismissed the employee’s claims for lactation rights on the basis that the PPACA did not create any private right of action against an employer that violates the requirement.  Rather, the PPACA gave the employee the right to file a complaint with the Labor Department, but not to initiate her own lawsuit.

However, the court held that the employee could pursue her claim for retaliation because the FLSA protected the employee from being retaliated against for complaining about the lack of an adequate place to express milk, noting that once an employer discriminates or discharges an employee in relation to an employee’s complaint about the employer’s express breast feeding policy, they have violated the FLSA.

Lesson for Employers:  Although the court said that an employee may not pursue a private right of action for being denied a secure and private place in which to express breast milk, Employers should take this issue seriously.  This includes instituting an express breast feeding policy, providing employees with a secure and private place in which to express milk, and taking seriously any complaints from employees about the adequacy of the designated space.


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Posted in FLSA, Labor & Employment | No Comments »