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PHOENIX - Albertsons has agreed to provide birth-control pills and other contraceptives to thousands of female employees rather than fight a lawsuit by Arizona workers who accuse the company of sex discrimination, according to a published report in the Arizona Republic.
The class action complaint, filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court here by a half-dozen female workers backed by Planned Parenthood and the federal Equal Opportunity Employment Commission, asks for an injunction and damages against Albertsons based on a claim that the company's health plan violates women's rights by excluding prescription contraceptives from coverage.
Josh Konecky, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said the suit was submitted as a formality so that a federal judge can confirm settlement terms negotiated earlier this year. He said that agreement would be entered into court record within days.
Lawrence Katz, a Phoenix attorney for Albertsons, said the company began covering contraceptives in June.
Konecky said several similar legal actions have succeeded, but the Albertsons case is groundbreaking because of its nationwide impact. He said the outcome would benefit more than 10,000 female employees at the company while advancing an industry trend for covering prescription contraceptives.
"This is a basic health need that's borne by women," Konecky said, "and to deny it is a form of discrimination. The trend is for employers to cover their female workers -- Albertsons has done the right thing here. They've created a workplace that's going to take care of its employees."
Konecky said the company has agreed to pay $50 to $150 to female employees who used prescription contraceptives, depending on how long they worked for the company. He said more than 70,000 women were enrolled in the health plan during a three-year period covered by the settlement.
The Phoenix lawsuit says Albertsons forced women into an untenable choice, paying for expensive contraceptives or getting pregnant, that men don't face. It says 85 percent of sexually active women of child-bearing age become pregnant if they don't use birth control.