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Pharmacy chain sued over religious discrimination

CVS clinic worker fired for declining to provide abortion-inducing drug to customer

A CVS Minute Clinic medical clinic in San Ramon, California Getty Images/Photo by Smith Collection/Gado

Pharmacy chain sued over religious discrimination

Virginia nurse practitioner Paige Casey filed suit last Wednesday against CVS’s MinuteClinic division for firing her after she refused to go against her Catholic faith and prescribe hormonal contraception or any potentially abortion-causing drug. She maintains that healthcare workers should not be forced to violate their ethical and religious beliefs to maintain employment.

Casey became a registered nurse practitioner in 2018 and began working at a MinuteClinic in Alexandria, Va., the same year. The complaint filed Wednesday in a Virginia state court contends Casey submitted a formal request for accommodation in early 2019, explaining that her Roman Catholic faith prohibits her from supporting abortion—whether through procedure or prescription—or any medication such as hormonal contraception that might act as an abortifacient. Management granted her request for three years with no complaints from patients or coworkers.

In late August 2021, CVS announced it would no longer permit employees with religious objections to opt out of prescribing contraceptives or abortifacients. According to the complaint, after months of back and forth with superiors explaining her religious convictions, Casey received a termination notice in late March “solely because of her religious beliefs prohibiting the provision of abortion-causing drugs.”

The change in CVS policy came a month after the U.S. Department of Health and Health and Services released a statement reinforcing the obligation of pharmacies to offer patients “comprehensive reproductive healthcare”—that is, contraception and abortion-inducing drugs.

CVS Executive Director of Corporate Communications Michael DeAngelis explained that though the company attempts to honor employee beliefs, “It is not possible ... to grant an accommodation that exempts an employee from performing the essential functions of their job.”

Alliance Defending Freedom’s Kevin H. Theriot, who represents Casey, contends CVS’s actions were illegal under a Virginia law known as the “conscience clause.” Enacted by the legislature in 2014 and signed into law by then–Gov. Terry McAuliffe, the provision states that Virginians cannot be required to participate in an abortion if they register an objection in writing on personal, ethical, moral, or religious grounds. “The written objection shall remain in effect until such person shall revoke it in writing or terminate his association with the facility with which it is filed,” the clause states. It prohibits employers from bringing disciplinary actions against or denying employment to anyone on the basis of their moral beliefs.

“Corporations like CVS cannot defy the law by firing professionals who want to work consistently with their faith,” said ADF senior counsel Denise Harle. 

Earlier this year, Texas nurse practitioner Robyn Strader submitted a Title VII discrimination complaint to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission after a different MinuteClinic fired her. Strader submitted the proper paperwork and received religious accommodation for eight years. After CVS stopped accommodating employees with religious objections to contraception, management allegedly informed her in September 2021 that she would need to start prescribing contraceptives or be fired. The Texas MinuteClinic terminated Strader at the end of October 2021.

Arguments over the breadth of religious accommodations in the workplace reached the Supreme Court with the recent appeal of Groff v. DeJoy. Pennsylvania postal worker Gerald E. Groff requested a religious accommodation not to work on Sundays, in keeping with his Christian faith. Groff maintains the U.S. Postal Service did not honor his request, prompting him to quit his post and sue USPS Postmaster General Louis DeJoy for religious discrimination. After losing in both the district court and federal appeals court, Groff’s legal team submitted a petition to the Supreme Court in March requesting that it overturn its 1977 ruling in Trans World Airlines Inc v. Hardison, which allows employers to reject religious accommodations should they produce excessive monetary cost or cause “undue hardship.”

As Strader continues waiting for the EEOC to rule on her complaint, Casey waits for the Prince William County Circuit Court to set a hearing date. CVS has given no official comment on both Strader and Casey’s lawsuits and allegations against their MinuteClinics.

Christina Grube

Christina Grube is a graduate of the World Journalism Institute.


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