CVS pharmacy fires Christian nurse for her religious beliefs on hormonal contraceptives - lawsuit
A former nurse practitioner claims that CVS pharmacies fired her because of her religious beliefs
. From 2009 to 2021, Suzanne Schuler worked for CVS MinuteClinics in Olathe, Kansas. For years, CVS accommodated Schuler’s deeply-held religious beliefs on the issue of prescribing hormonal contraceptives. Schuler chose not to prescribe Plan B and Ella, two abortion-inducing drugs. Customers who sought these drugs were typically referred elsewhere.
On October 31, 2021, CVS MinuteClinics fired nurse Schuler because she posed an “undue hardship on its business operations” for not abiding by a new company policy requiring her to “provide advice about contraceptives, abortifacients, and other birth control options.”
Nurse fired for choosing not to prescribe abortion-inducing drugs
Suzanne Schuler filed a lawsuit against her former employer in the United States District Court for the District of Kansas, claiming she was terminated for not prescribing the abortion-inducing drugs. According to the suit, CVS MinuteClinic “abruptly stopped respecting Ms. Schuler’s religious beliefs in September 2021 and fired her October 31, 2021, for refusing to prescribe abortion-causing drugs.”
This lawsuit maintains that Schuler’s Christian faith “prohibits her from providing, prescribing, or facilitating the use of any drug, device, or surgical procedure that can cause abortion
— including drugs like certain hormonal contraceptives, Plan B and Ella.” Schuler had done her due diligence over the years, obtaining a religious exemption in 2011 to exempt herself from refilling birth control prescriptions. She also successfully obtained a religious exemption in 2015 when CVS changed her job description, which would have required her to prescribe contraceptives.
The lawsuit references two other cases of religious discrimination currently taking place. Paige Casey, a Catholic nurse practitioner in Virginia and Robyn Strader, a nurse practitioner in Texas, face similar situations with their former employers.
Nurse files Charge of Discrimination with Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
Before the lawsuit was filed, Schuler filed a “Charge of Discrimination” to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). On March 4, 2022, MinuteClinic responded to the allegation, asserting, “MinuteClinic terminated Complainant’s employment after determining it could no longer excuse her from performing these essential job duties without imposing an undue hardship on its business operations.” In 2021, CVS changed its corporate policy, requiring nurse practitioners to provide advice about contraceptives, abortifacients and other birth control options.
CVS MinuteClinic referred to these policy changes to justify their firing of nurse Schuler. “MinuteClinic’s business model has transitioned from a retail or acute care model to a more holistic health services model,” the clinic rebutted. “The new holistic health care model is geared toward creating consistent relationships with patients similar to a community health center. As such, it was imperative that Nurse Practitioners, such as Complainant, be prepared and able to treat any number of conditions, including counseling and advice about contraceptives, abortifacients, and other birth control options, and prescribing such medications.” MinuteClinic told the EEOC that Schuler’s claims “lack probable cause.” MinuteClinic claims that Schuler “will be unable to establish that MinuteClinic engaged in discriminatory conduct” – even though CVS explicitly created a policy that does just that.
Schuler's lawyers wrote, “There were no complaints from co-workers, patients, or supervisors while her accommodation was in place or at any time during her employment with Defendants. Ms. Schuler’s work was outstanding, and she had no performance issues throughout her employment with Defendants.”
According to the court filing, Schuler is seeking “punitive damages" and “unpaid lost wages due to wrongful discharge.” She also believes CVS MinuteClinic should compensate her for “damages for pain and suffering, mental and emotional distress, suffering and anxiety, reductions in wages, expenses, costs and other damages.”
In Kansas, there are no laws on the books
requiring nurses/pharmacists to prescribe or dispense medication. Most states allow pharmacists to make their own judgment. In seven states, pharmacists can refuse to provide medication
but must refer patients elsewhere. In six other states, pharmacists can refuse to provide medication and are not required to refer patients elsewhere.