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Michigan women seek $27M refund from state in ‘tampon tax’ lawsuit

Michigan lawsuit seeks to end taxation of menstrual products, refund 2.4 million consumers

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Three Michigan women are suing the state treasury for its “unlawful and invalid” taxation of menstrual hygiene products in an effort to put an end to the “tampon tax” once and for all.

In a class action lawsuit filed Tuesday, Michigan residents Emily Beggs, Clare Pfeiffer and Wei Ho are suing the state of Michigan and its department of treasury, claiming that sales and use taxes on menstrual products violate both the U.S. and Michigan constitutions and discriminate on the basis of sex.

“Michigan collects approximately $6.9 million annually in taxes on menstrual products,” the complaint reads. “While this amounts to less than 0.01% of total state revenue, the (”tampon tax”) represents a significant financial burden on women: Above and beyond the estimated $114 million Michigan women must pay each year for medical necessities such as tampons, pads and liners, they are forced to pay an additional $6.9 million in sales and use taxes to the state.”

The plaintiffs, backed by nonprofit organization Period Equity, argue that menstrual hygiene products are medical necessities, and therefore it is unlawful to tax them -- particularly because individuals who menstruate don’t do so by choice.

Michigan currently imposes a 0.06% sales tax on most goods, including menstrual products. The plaintiffs argue that, in contrast, other products also used by men that are considered “necessities” -- such as food items and prescription drugs -- remain untaxed in the state.

“The State cannot make sex a determining factor in the application of Michigan’s sales and use taxes,” the complaint reads. “In administering and enforcing the (”tampon tax”), the (state Treasury) maintains a tax on women.”

The lawsuit comes as the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic continues to negatively financially impact Americans -- particularly, and disproportionately, Michigan women, the plaintiffs argue.

According to the complaint, Michigan women comprised 49 percent of the U.S. workforce but accounted for 55 percent of job losses in April amid the pandemic. Michigan women were already at an economic disadvantage compared to men, the claim reads, as 15.2 percent of working age women made incomes below the poverty line compared to 11.9 percent of men in 2018.

The plaintiffs’ request to recognize menstrual products as essential medical products comes after the federal government declared menstrual care products as “qualified medical expenses” under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

Beggs, Pfeiffer and Ho are requesting the state treasury to issue a refund of all sale and use taxes on menstrual hygiene products collected over the last four years from them and “similarly situated persons who have paid sales and/or use taxes on their purchase and/or consumption of menstrual products in Michigan.”

The three women claim that they are together entitled to a refund of around $130, plus interest, for sales and/or use taxes paid on menstrual products over the last four years.

The plaintiffs also claim that the class of “similarly situated persons” -- approximately 2,400,000 individuals -- are together entitled to a refund of about $27.6 million, plus interest, for sales and/or use taxes paid on menstrual products over the last four years.

Per Michigan law, residents have up to four years to file a claim for a refund on taxes paid.

In addition to the refunds, the plaintiffs are asking the court to declare that the administration and enforcement of sales and use taxes of menstrual products is “unlawful, invalid, and unenforceable,” and violates both the U.S. and Michigan constitutions’ equal protection clauses.

“Women in Michigan who buy and/or consume menstrual products in Michigan are harmed by the Defendants’ taxation of these products, because they are forced to pay a sales and or use tax on products necessary and vital to their health, while men who purchase products far less or equally necessary to their health are not,” the complaint reads.

This lawsuit’s particular refund request may be new to Michigan, but ending the taxation of menstrual products in the state -- and the country -- is an idea that has circulated for years.

A bill was introduced to the Michigan Legislature in 2016 regarding ending the tampon tax, but no real change came of it. The plaintiffs argue that the state legislature has since proposed and passed sale and use tax exemptions for products also used by men, “despite becoming increasingly aware of the discriminatory impact of its failure to exempt menstrual products.”

Back in 2017 during her gubernatorial campaign, now-Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer expressed support for ending sales and use taxes on menstrual products, tweeting, “Stop taxing women for being women.”

A number organizations have been driving the movement to abolish tampon taxes throughout the U.S.

Period Equity, the nonprofit involved in the Michigan lawsuit, launched their “Tax Free. Period.” initiative in 2019, which demands that states abolish the taxation of menstrual products by Tax Day in 2021. The organization aims to mobilize Americans to pressure their states to eliminate the taxes.

“The Tax Free. Period. campaign was built on a revolutionary argument: Since the tampon tax only applies to people who menstruate, it is not just unfair, it’s also a form of sex-based discrimination -- and therefore unconstitutional and illegal,” the organization’s website reads.

Some states, including Montana, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania no longer tax menstrual products. According to Tax Free. Period., 30 states still currently administer sales and/or use taxes on menstrual hygiene products.

Some of these states don’t require taxes on seemingly-random products that are not considered medical necessities, however. For example, donuts are untaxed in Michigan; cotton candy is untaxed in Iowa; chewing gum is untaxed in West Virginia and bingo supplies are untaxed in Missouri, according to the organization.

In contrast, the entirety of Canada eliminated tampon taxes back in 2015.

You can review the entire complaint filed by Beggs, Pfeiffer and Ho below.

Related: Washtenaw County teen group tackles period poverty in Michigan


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