Covering Birth Control
Why one woman sued.
Erickson's lawsuit aims to assist working women like herself -- those who are neither rich enough to easily pay for contraceptives themselves nor poor enough to qualify for help from the government. And while the young newlywed is new to activism, the role of crusader for women's rights seems to be coming quite naturally. "I'm very outgoing and outspoken," Erickson says. "It's easy for me to say, 'This is wrong, fix it.'"
Bartell has yet to file a response to the suit, but in a press statement the company defended its policy as "lawful and nondiscriminatory," noting that "no medical benefits program covers every possible cost." Company officials have not spoken with Erickson about the lawsuit. She says her working environment has remained friendly.
Erickson, who grew up in Lafayette, Ind., moved to Seattle in 1999. She has worked for Bartell for 18 months and was recently promoted to pharmacy manager. She says she loves her job and considers Bartell -- which operates a chain of 45 drugstores in Washington -- a progressive workplace. But she hates telling customers that their health plans don't cover the contraceptives they need. Even more, she hates watching them turn away angrily.
"One woman recently said to me, 'I have to make rent this month, I have five kids to feed, I can't afford to pay for birth control pills,' " Erickson says. "I want to say to her, 'Don't leave without these!' I feel so bad."
But Erickson's efforts aren't simply aimed at helping others. The fact that her own company's insurance plan doesn't cover contraceptives forces Erickson -- who says she's not ready to have children -- to pay $360 a year out-of-pocket for birth control pills.
While she can afford this expense, she thinks it's unfair that she has to. And there were times in the past when she couldn't. Like many women, she turned to Planned Parenthood, where she was a regular client and a strong supporter. So when representatives from the local chapter said they would help her file a complaint against Bartell with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission last December, she didn't hesitate.