Thomas Monaghan, the founder and former CEO of Domino's Pizza, asked a federal judge last week to block the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services from forcing him to cover contraceptives under his current company's employee health care plan.
In a lawsuit filed Dec. 14 in a U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, attorneys for Monaghan requested preliminary and permanent injunctions against an HHS rule—promulgated under the federal health care reform law—that requires most employers to provide cost-free coverage for birth control prescriptions, sterilization, preventative screenings and other forms of women's preventative care, alleging that the mandate forces him to violate his closely held religious beliefs.
Monaghan, a devout Catholic, owns and operates the Ann Arbor, Michigan-based Domino's Farms Corp., the property management company for the 270-acre office park that houses the Domino's Pizza world headquarters. He retired as chief executive of the global pizza chain in 1998, selling 93 percent control of the company to Bain Capital Inc.
Domino's Pizza is not directly involved in the lawsuit.
Law 'substantially burdens' religious freedom
According to the lawsuit, Monaghan's faith precludes him from incorporating contraceptives of any kind in Domino's Farms' group health plan, and that the $2,000-per-year-per-employee penalty for noncompliance forces him to choose between dropping group benefits altogether or betraying his religious beliefs.
Monaghan is seeking protection from the mandate under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the 1996 Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
"Having to pay a fine to the taxing authorities or being entirely forced out of the insurance market in order to ensure the privilege of practicing one's religion or controlling one's own speech substantially burdens plaintiffs' religious liberty and freedom of speech under the First Amendment," attorneys for Monaghan claimed in the lawsuit.
The coverage requirement for contraception for most employers goes into effect for plan years that begin on or after Aug. 1, 2012. Religious organizations, such as churches, that primarily employ those with the same beliefs are exempt from the mandate. In March, HHS announced a temporary "safe harbor" exemption for nonprofit affiliates of religious organizations lasting until August 2013.
Other employers seek exemption
Monaghan is the 42nd for-profit employer to seek judicial exemption to the contraceptive mandate, according to the Washington-based Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, and the second to do so in Michigan's Eastern District court.
In October, a district judge granted Utica, Michigan-based Weingartz Supply Co. and its owner, Daniel Weingartz, a preliminary injunction blocking the mandate. Two other U.S. District Court judges in Colorado and Washington, D.C., have granted employers temporary exemptions, while two federal judges—in Nebraska and Oklahoma—have dismissed cases brought to them by private and public employers.
In November, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri judge's dismissal of another private employer's challenge to the mandate on religious grounds.