Religious liberty law firm Thomas More Society has filed a federal lawsuit in Tennessee on behalf of former Walgreens pharmacist Philip Hall, alleging Hall was unfairly fired because his faith would not permit him to sell the Plan B morning-after pill over the counter.
Hall worked for the Jamestown, Tenn., location for six years prior to his August 2013 termination. His attorneys say the store permitted him to opt out of filling prescriptions for abortifacients Ella or Plan B when they were prescription drugs.
Hall, a Baptist, said he couldn’t fill those prescriptions because, “they can prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus.”
That arrangement apparently changed last year when the Food and Drug Administration allowed Plan B to be sold over the counter. Hall’s attorneys say that at an employee meeting on the change, his supervisors asked him what he would do if he was asked about the drug.
Believing the previous procedures applied, Hall said he would refer the sale to another cashier.
As a result, he was fired.
Walgreens spokesman James Graham says he cannot comment on pending litigation, but, “We can tell you that Walgreens company policy allows pharmacists and other employees to step away from completing a transaction to which they have a moral objection. Our policy also requires the employee to refer the transaction to another employee or manager on duty who will complete the customer’s request.”
Thomas More Society attorney Jocelyn Floyd is representing Hall in his federal lawsuit and she says that Hall’s constitutional rights have been violated.
Floyd says that the law recognizes an enormous list of reasons people can lodge religious objections, but she says there are limits. The law requires the employer make a “reasonable accommodation,” a process that begins with the employee.
“If someone has a religious objection, they have to go to their employer and say they can’t do something. In this case it’s selling the morning after pill for religious reasons. The employer is required to make what is called the reasonable accommodation.
“In this case, this would require the store to allow Dr. Hall the opportunity to have another cashier process the sale. That is a reasonable accommodation. Now that it is over the counter it can be any cashier,” Floyd said.
She also says that the over-the-counter status of Plan B makes it easier for the store to accommodate Hall’s beliefs.
“Before, when it was a prescription drug, the dispensing of the drug and the sale had to be done by another pharmacist. Now it can be any cashier and that means that finding another cashier doesn’t place an undue burden on the store.
“It might be a slight hassle and it can be a little annoying to have to find another cashier, but it is not an undue burden. If he believed his religious beliefs were such that he couldn’t even work in the store and that the company would have to stop selling the product altogether, that would be an undue burden,” Floyd said.
Floyd says the suit is best pursued in federal court because the decision to terminate Hall was made at the corporate level.
“This is a company action; this is Walgreens itself. When you have the amount of money that is at issue here and the fact that we’re looking at both state and federal law, then it’s better in federal court,” Floyd said.
Floyd also believes that this case should become a precedent setting case because of the subject matter.
“Obviously we hope that this case will set a precedent, that it will set a precedent both in the court and in the society, letting the society know that this is a clear violation of state and federal law and that they (the company) can’t do that. Hopefully other medical and pharmaceutical professionals will be able to avoid this situation altogether by getting their religious beliefs respected,” Floyd said.
The results of the termination included, according to the plaintiffs, a denial of unemployment benefits by Walgreens, premature loss of health insurance, three months of unemployment while hunting for work, having to spend retirement savings to pay bills, and getting new employment with a commute of 60 miles and at lower pay.
The action asks “Walgreens to pay him (Hall) everything he lost as a result of them firing him unjustly,” Floyd said.