LOS ANGELES — A flight attendant filed federal discrimination charges against American Airlines on Monday, saying her employee health plan does not cover reproductive care for women but provides Viagra for men.
Martina Alexander said after being refused coverage for infertility treatments in 1999 she learned her health plan does not cover pap smears or birth control pills either — but does cover Viagra for impotent male employees.
“Is a male reproductive organ more valued than a female reproductive organ? That is the question I asked myself when I was turned down by the company for infertility treatment. I was shocked, upset and angry when I realized that females didn’t seem to be treated as though they were as important as men,” said Alexander, 36, who has worked as a flight attendant since 1987.
In a charge filed Monday with the U.S Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, attorney Gloria Allred contended that American’s policy constitutes sex, pregnancy and disability discrimination.
Gus Whitcomb, a spokesman for the 110,000-employee airline, said American’s three basic employee health plans cover all “medically necessary” procedures or medications. That can include drugs, such as Viagra, prescribed by a physician to treat male impotence.
Allred called that absurd.
“We believe that this reasoning is insufficient to legally justify American’s coverage decision,” Allred said.
Other plans offered by American, including through “wellness programs” and HMOs, cover pap smears and infertility treatments, but are available only on a limited geographic basis to the airline’s workers, Whitcomb said.
Allred said she expected the EEOC to give her the go-ahead to file a federal lawsuit against American in 60 to 90 days.
The charges are similar to those in a lawsuit a Seattle woman filed in July against the drugstore chain she works for.
Women’s groups have appealed to Congress and state legislatures to require health insurance companies to cover contraception, but only a handful of states have laws on the books, and those cover only state-regulated insurance plans.
In December, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found that excluding contraceptives from health plans discriminates against women, although the decision directly affected only two women.