Here at Johnson Employment Law, we are shocked by the recent Supreme Court ruling in the Hobby Lobby case. And the subsequent ruling in the Wheaton College case.
Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you know about the controversial 5-4 decision, which bowed to Hobby Lobby’s religious objections to providing female employees with health coverage for certain forms of birth control. The court justified its actions by noting that Hobby Lobby could use the same workaround the Obama administration had agreed to for nonprofits – sending a form indicating their objection to their insurance company or third-party administrator, which would provide the coverage free of charge.
We have to ask: Why is the court mucking about in women’s personal health decisions? And why aren’t men’s health decisions — i.e., vasectomies – up for discussion? The court’s split along gender lines – all three female justices opposed the ruling, along with liberal Justice Stephen Breyer – is a telling indication that women’s rights are still lagging in this country.
Compounding the insult, three days later, the court essentially reversed itself in Wheaton College vs. Burwell, when it ruled that the workaround itself was a burden to employers’ religious freedom. With all three female justices opposed, the court issued a temporary injunction allowing the college to refuse to comply with the workaround, which it claimed was itself a violation of its religious beliefs. In the minority dissent, penned by Sotomayor, she wrote, “Those who are bound by our decisions usually believe they can take us at our word. Not so today.”
In her dissent to Burwell vs. Hobby Lobby, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg argued that the decision was a ground-shaking departure for the court, which in the past has ruled against employers who wanted to discriminate for religious reasons:
1982: An Amish employer who wanted to withhold Society Security taxes for religious reasons
1985: Employers who didn’t want to pay minimum wage based on religious reasons
1990: A Baptist church that didn’t want to provide women with equal pay for equal work
The repercussions are just beginning. Senate Democrats have already introduced a bill that would ban for-profit employers from seeking exemptions from the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that health plans cover contraception costs.
And we foresee more challenges to a slew of laws that employers will say violate their religious rights.
In fact, the first domino has already fallen. Five advocacy groups working to promote gay rights this week backed away from supporting a bill in Congress that would make it illegal to discriminate in the workplace based on sexual orientation. That bill had included a religious exemption for a variety of entities, and supporters concluded that it would likely give rise to more – rather than less – discrimination against members of the LGBT community.
Confused by what you, as an employer, can dictate to your employees? Contact Johnson Employment Law for guidance. 949-238-8044