Plaintiff, the Eternal World TV Network—a Catholic network with 350 employees—was required to provide health insurance for its employees, which would include coverage for contraceptives, under the Affordable Care Act. Plaintiff contended that using or providing contraceptives violated a deeply-held tenant of its belief system and that the accommodation provided to religious nonprofit organizations under the Affordable Care Act still amounted to government coercion to change its beliefs. Plaintiff brought suit against the federal government, claiming that the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which protects religious groups. The Eleventh Circuit found that the accommodation did not violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act because, despite the plaintiff’s right to strict scrutiny review, the accommodation did not substantially burden the exercise of religious tenants and was the least restrictive method of furthering the compelling interest of reducing the rate of unplanned pregnancies. Plaintiff also argued that the accommodation violated the Free Exercise and Establishment Clauses of the United States Constitution, which the court denied, reasoning that the contraceptive mandate was generally applicable: it did not target specifically religious groups or particular denominations.
Women and Justice: Court: United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
A. Griffin was employed as a billing clerk in the City of Opa-Locka’s water department in 1993. Shortly after hiring Griffin, the city hired Earnie Neal as its City Manager. After taking office, Neal immediately began sexually harassing Griffin. He called her derogatory names, aggressively pursued her, and made inappropriate advances. He performed some of these acts in front of the Mayor and City Commissioner. Griffin continually resisted his advances and attempted to go on with her daily routines in fear of being fired. Eventually, Neal raped Griffin in her apartment after insisting he drive her home after an event put on by the city. Griffin waited several months to come forward about the rape, and the lawsuit ensued. Griffin sought damages against the City for 13 and sexual assault under Title VII; the Florida Civil Rights Act; 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and state tort law. She also alleged claims against Neal. At trial, a jury found that Neal sexually harassed Griffin, that the harassment was a custom or policy of the City, Neal raped Griffin under color of law, the City was deliberately indifferent in hiring Neal, and found against Neal on all tort claims. The subsequent damage award amounted to $2 million dollars. On appeal, the Eleventh Circuit agreed with the district court that Neal was acting under the color of law and that 13 was the on-going, accepted practice at the City and that the City Commissioner, Mayor, and other high ranking City officials knew of, ignored, and tolerated 13. But because the record did not establish that the jury below found the City had a custom or policy of allowing rape or that the rape incident was part of the custom or pattern of 13, the court found that the suit lacked all essential aspects of a § 1983 case against the City. As such, the verdict and judgment against the City for rape under § 1983 was vacated. All other charges against the City were affirmed. The $1.5 million dollar verdict against the City was reversed. The City was still found liable for 13 due to the hostile work environment it fostered, as well as deliberate indifference in the hiring of Neal.