U.S. District Judge Laurie Smith Camp ruled in a class-action lawsuit that claimed the company discriminated by providing a range of preventive health benefits — including impotence drugs — but no contraceptive care.
The policy is discriminatory "because it treats medical care women need to prevent pregnancy less favorably than it treats medical care needed to prevent other medical conditions that are no greater threat to employees' health than is pregnancy," the judge wrote.
Union Pacific spokesman Mark Davis said the ruling will be appealed because, among other things, the decision to exclude contraceptives in the benefits package was negotiated with the company's unions.
He said nonunion employees have had prescription contraceptive coverage for "some time."
The lawsuit, backed by Planned Parenthood, alleged that the railroad's action violated the federal Civil Rights Act, which prohibits employers with 15 or more workers from making decisions based on gender or pregnancy.
Planned Parenthood said recent studies show that 88 percent of employer health plans provide coverage for all methods of prescription contraception, compared with only 64 percent in 2001.
The lead plaintiffs in the class-action were Brandi Standridge, a 25-year-old trainman and engineer for Union Pacific who lives in Pocatello, Idaho, and Kenya Phillips, a 32-year-old engineer who lives near Kansas City, Mo.
"We are thrilled with the court ruling and simply want Union Pacific to cover all FDA-approved methods of prescription contraception and reimburse employees who had to pay for their contraception out-of-pocket," Phillips said in a statement released by Planned Parenthood.
Omaha-based Union Pacific Corp. operates Union Pacific Railroad. It is the largest railroad in North America, covering 23 states.