Yesterday, the Thomas More Society filed a federal lawsuit in the Middle District of Tennessee on behalf of Pharmacist Dr. Philip Hall against the Walgreen Company.
The complaint alleges that, in August 2013, Walgreens wrongfully fired Hall, who had been employed for six years as a pharmacist at Walgreens’ store in Jamestown, Tennessee, in violation of his constitutionally and statutorily protected rights to freedom of religion.
Hall, a practicing Baptist, entertains profound religious and moral objections to dispensing abortifacients, or abortion-inducing drugs, such as Plan B. For six years, Walgreens respected Hall’s religious beliefs and gave him only favorable reviews for his work performance. But in August 2013, Walgreens did an “about-face” and tried to force Hall to dispense Plan B in violation of his beliefs. When Hall indicated his intent to continue following the internal procedures that accommodated his beliefs, Walgreens fired him.
“Dr. Hall’s right to live according to his religious beliefs, including in his workplace, is protected both under the Federal Civil Rights Act and the Tennessee State Constitution,” said Larry Crain, co-counsel with Thomas More Society. “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.”
From the time of his hiring in March 2007, Hall followed Walgreens’ well-known protocol allowing him to ask another pharmacist to dispense prescription drugs such as Plan B. After the implementation of new FDA protocols in August 2013, requiring that Plan B be sold over-the-counter, Hall reiterated to his superiors his religious objections to selling the drug and followed up with a call to the employee relations department at Walgreens’ corporate headquarters to express his concerns.
One month later, Hall was questioned by his superiors about how he would treat a request for the drug. As he had been informed of no change in store policy due to the change in FDA regulations, he verbally went through the standard protocol which he had followed for the past six years. But then he was fired on the spot.
“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,” stated Jocelyn Floyd, attorney with the Thomas More Society, “especially after six years of settled store practices showed that Walgreens could reasonably accommodate Dr. Hall’s religious beliefs with no difficulties.”
As a result of his firing Hall has suffered the following:
- Denial of unemployment benefits by Walgreens
- Premature loss of health insurance, which caused him to incur thousands of dollars in medical bills that would have otherwise been covered
- Three months of being unemployed with the inability to find employment
- The necessity of having to spend his retirement money and cash out all of his stock in order to pay his bills while unemployed
- Eventually obtainment of new employment with a significant pay cut and the burden of a commute to work that is sixty miles one way
Hall says he has chosen to file the complaint not only to repair and redress the losses that he has suffered but also in order to prevent similarly situated pharmacists from being forced to choose between honoring their consciences and keeping their jobs.
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The Thomas More Society, a Chicago-based public interest law firm, together with Nashville area Tennessee attorney Larry Crain, of Crain, Schuette & Associates, is behind the lawsuit.