A pharmacist from Tennessee filed suit against drug store chain Walgreens on Tuesday, claiming the company fired him because he refused to dispense so-called “morning after”emergency contraceptives.
Philip Hall worked as a pharmacist at a Walgreens in Jamestown, Tenn., for six years before he was fired in August 2013. Until then, the company accommodated his request not to fill prescriptions for drugs like Ella and Plan B. Emergency contraceptives are considered abortifacient drugs because they can prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus. Hall, a Baptist, told the company his faith prevented him from participating in abortions, a position he claims his supervisors honored.
But after the Food and Drug Administration ruled last year that Plan B could be sold over the counter, Hall’s supervisors asked him how he would respond to a request for the drug. Following the previously established procedures, Hall said he would ask another pharmacist to fill the request. He was fired on the spot.
The company’s decision to fire Hall violated both the federal Civil Rights Act and the Tennessee state constitution, his attorneys said.
“Americans have the right to live according to their sincerely held religious beliefs and not be forced to participate in actions that they deeply and sincerely believe are morally wrong,” said Larry Crain, co-counsel with Thomas More Society, which is representing Hall.
After he lost his job, Hall had to take money from his retirement account to pay his bills, according to the complaint. He also racked up thousands of dollars in medical bills that would have been covered under the Walgreens health insurance plan.
Two years ago, a federal judge in Washington ruled state officials could not force pharmacists to sell emergency contraceptives in violation of their religious beliefs. In that case, the judge ruled the state’s goal was to suppress the pharmacists’religious objections, not provide universal access to the medication.
But the Tennessee case may have more in common with a West Virginia case in which the government sided with an employee who claimed Consol Energy violated his religious beliefs. Beverly Butcher refused to use the company’s new biometric hand scanner to sign in to work because he believed the tracking method resembled the mark of the beast described in the book of Revelation. Because the company allowed other employees to keep paper records instead of using the scanner, proving it could accommodate exceptions to the rule, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said Consol singled Butcher out because of his religious beliefs.
In the Walgreens case, the company already had allowed Hall to avoid dispensing drugs he found objectionable. Jocelyn Floyd, an attorney with the Thomas More Society, noted: “It is illegal for Walgreens to attempt to force employees like Dr. Hall to dispense certain drugs in violation of their religious and moral beliefs, especially after six years of settled store practices showed that Walgreens could reasonably accommodate Dr. Hall’s religious beliefs with no difficulties.”