Seyfarth Synopsis: As more employers announce that they cover travel benefits under their medical plans that will allow participants to be reimbursed for certain travel expenses necessary in order to access otherwise covered medical benefits, proponents on the pro-choice and anti-abortion platforms seek ways to support or block those benefits.
In the weeks since the Dobbs decision was released, the ripple effects of the decision continue to arise in unexpected ways. Litigants are challenging as discriminatory under Title VII, employer travel benefits that enable employees to travel in order terminate pregnancies in states where it remains legal. Specifically, litigants have begun to assert that providing travel benefits for the purpose of terminating a pregnancy is unlawful if the employer does not also allow travel benefits for pregnant women who intend to carry their pregnancy to term.
There is a long history of employees using Title VII as a tool to ensure equal benefit treatment in situations where only certain classes of employees are eligible for a benefit. The nuance in the recent challenges are that employees during pregnancy do not typically need to travel for a benefits purpose (e.g., to receive adequate prenatal care). Further, to date these claims do not appear to be an allegation that only certain pregnant employees have access to a travel benefit to terminate a pregnancy. This makes the success of this type of claim far from certain. However, even if these cases are dismissed for failure to state a cognizable claim, this type of action remains significant in showing the new types of litigation claims that employers will need to contend with post-Dobbs. It is expected that other cases may be filed under Title VII asserting claims of religious discrimination. For instance, an employee may claim that their religious rights are being infringed on if they are tasked with approving abortion related travel benefits and abortion violates their religious beliefs.
To navigate this increasingly divisive environment, it remains a best practice to clearly communicate the scope of any post-Dobbs policy and to work with counsel to ensure that the policy is properly tailored to best mitigate litigation risk in a rapidly changing legal climate. Please stay tuned as we continue to provide updates on litigation and statutory trends post-Dobbs.