Revisiting a case that had been thought closed, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has ruled that Belmont Abbey College’s decision to remove contraception from its faculty health care policy, in accordance with Catholic teaching, discriminated against women.
After a faculty member discovered that contraception, abortion and voluntary sterilization were covered by the North Carolina college’s health care policy, the drugs and procedures were removed from the plan in December 2007. Though the state of North Carolina requires this coverage, it offers an exemption for religious institutions.
Explaining the decision to end the coverage, college president Dr. William Thierfelder had written:
“The teaching of the Catholic Church on this moral issue is clear. The responsibility of the College as a Catholic College sponsored by the monks of Belmont Abbey to follow Church teaching is equally clear. There was no other course of action possible if we were to operate in fidelity to our mission and to our identity as a Catholic College.”
Speaking in a Monday statement, the college said that in March 2009 it had received a “Dismissal and Notice of Rights” determination letter from the EEOC, saying that the Commission was closing its file on the discrimination charge. According to the college, the file was closed because the Commission was unable to conclude that the college’s decision to change the employee health plan violated the statutes.
“We were surprised to learn that the EEOC has now reversed itself,” the college’s statement said.
Reuben Daniels Jr., Director of the EEOC Charlotte District Office, issued an August 5 determination holding that that the denial of prescription contraception drugs constitutes discrimination based on gender “because only females take oral prescription contraceptives.”
“By denying coverage, men are not affected, only women,” he added, the Gaston Gazette reports.
The EEOC has also ruled that the college retaliated against faculty members who filed charges with the Commission by identifying them by name in a letter to faculty and staff. The Commission said that complainants should be protected by confidentiality.
“By disclosing Charging Party’s name, a chilling effect was created on Respondent’s campus whereby other faculty and staff members would be reluctant to file a charge of employment discrimination for fear of disclosure.”
The EEOC has asked both faculty and the college to work with it to reach a resolution, the Gaston Gazette says. If the college declines to discuss the settlement or an acceptable settlement is not reached, the EEOC director will inform both sides and advise them of the court enforcement alternatives available.
Responding to the EEOC’s latest determination, Belmont Abbey College said in a statement:
“We are disappointed that this matter has taken this very unusual twist, but we remain committed to ensuring that all of the College’s policies and practices follow the teachings of the Catholic Church, which includes valuing all life and treating individuals with dignity and respect, and providing equal opportunities for all.”
The college expressed disagreement with the EEOC’s charges of discrimination and retaliation.
“The College is confident that its actions ultimately will be found to be in compliance with all federal and state laws and with the U.S. Constitution,” the college’s statement continued. “Accordingly, the College will be asking the EEOC to reconsider each of the current determinations it has made in connection with the charges filed against the College.”
“The Newman Guide to Choosing a Catholic College,” published by the Catholic higher education organization the Cardinal Newman Society, has listed Belmont Abbey College as an example of a faithful Catholic college.