CVS nurse practitioner fired for religious beliefs: lawsuit

CVS Pharmacy
People walk past a CVS Pharmacy store in New York on January 24, 2019. |

A major drugstore chain is denying allegations of wrongdoing as it faces another legal action for firing an employee who refused to supply abortion drugs in violation of her deeply held religious beliefs.

In a lawsuit obtained by The Christian Post, former CVS nurse practitioner Suzanne Schuler claims her former employer fired her because of her religious beliefs. The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in the United States District Court for the District of Kansas, noted that Schuler worked as a nurse practitioner at CVS MinuteClinics in Olathe, Kansas, and surrounding areas, from 2009 to 2021.

Operated by CVS, MinuteClinics provides “non-emergency medical treatment to patients by appointment and walk-in.” According to the lawsuit, Schuler’s Christian faith “prohibits her from providing, prescribing, or facilitating the use of any drug, device, or surgical procedure that can induce an abortion, including drugs like certain hormonal contraceptives, Plan B, and Ella.” .

Schuler successfully won religious exemptions to a 2011 requirement that nurse practitioners renew birth control prescriptions and a 2015 amendment to his job description requiring him to prescribe contraceptives, including abortion drugs.

The complaint alleges that “nothing has changed in terms of the nurse practitioner job description according to the CVS job summary for this position in 2021 and nothing in the 2021 job description has added different obligations that did not exist in the previously published job description. He claims that MinuteClinic “abruptly stopped respecting Ms. Schuler’s religious beliefs in September 2021 and terminated her on October 31, 2021 for refusing to prescribe abortion medication.”

The complaint clarified that “the only thing that has changed in 2021 is that CVS has labeled the provision of advice and counseling on contraceptives, abortifacients and other birth control options as ‘essential functions'” .

The lawsuit asks a federal court to grant Schuler’s claim for “damages, including lost wages and benefits and wages due to his termination, unpaid lost wages due to wrongful dismissal or constructive dismissal, back wages, reinstatement or initial payment, pre-judgment and post-judgment interest, punitive damages and compensatory damages, including, but not limited to, damages for pain and suffering, mental and emotional distress, suffering and anxiety, reduced wages, expenses and other damages.

Prior to filing the lawsuit, Schuler had filed a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. MinuteClinic responded to the EEOC’s complaint in a March 4 position statement, writing, “MinuteClinic terminated the Complainant’s employment after determining that she could no longer excuse her from performing these essential tasks without imposing undue hardship on its business operations”.

“MinuteClinic’s business model has evolved from a retail or acute care model to a more holistic healthcare services model. The new holistic health care model aims to create cohesive patient relationships similar to a community health center. As such, it was imperative that nurse practitioners, such as the complainant, be prepared and able to deal with a number of conditions, including counseling and counseling on contraceptives, abortifacients and other control options. births, and to prescribe such drugs. »

Insisting that Schuler would “often, if not always, have been the only nurse practitioner available to provide such patient care, including writing prescriptions for contraceptives,” the position statement stated that the only way to hold account of his religious beliefs “would therefore have been to refuse patients seeking such services, direct them to an entirely different company, and/or inform patients that they should return to see another practitioner at the same clinic on another day.

The response to the EEOC’s complaint repeatedly cited the “new business model” as justification for its decision to stop accommodating Schuler’s religious beliefs, pointing out that his “claim that MinuteClinic allowed him to refuse patients in previous years did not matter where his business needs had changed. The document called on the EEOC to dismiss Schuler’s claims for “lack of probable cause”, suggesting that “the Complainant will not be able to establish that MinuteClinic engaged in discriminatory conduct”.

The lawsuit filed in federal court Wednesday pushes back against the idea that Schuler’s failure to provide contraception was an undue hardship on his employer’s business model: “There were no complaints from colleagues, patients or supervisors while her accommodation was in place or at any time during her employment with Defendants. Ms. Schuler’s work was exceptional and she had no performance issues throughout her employment with Defendants.”

Additionally, the lawsuit said that the MinuteClinic Schuler primarily “was not staffed on a daily basis to provide all services to a client (beyond those that Ms. Schuler could not provide” and that “there were services that required both a nurse practitioner and a [registered nurse/licensed practical nurse.]The complaint elaborated on the staffing of MinuteClinics in the Olathe area.

“Historically, staffing of CVS clinics to have an RN/RPN on duty concurrently with a nurse practitioner has not occurred. There were not enough RN/RPN candidates. For the Kansas metro area, CVS typically only had one RN/LPN assigned to three of ten or eleven CVS clinics which did not cover the full operational day or to cover all seven days of the week.

The case involving Schuler is not the first time CVS has faced legal action for firing a Christian nurse practitioner for refusing to dispense birth control. Paige Casey, a Catholic nurse practitioner in Virginia, and Robyn Strader, a nurse practitioner in Texas, made similar allegations in a lawsuit and complaint to the EEOC, respectively. Wednesday’s lawsuit contains references to the other two nurse practitioners.

Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be contacted at: [email protected]

Free Religious Freedom Updates

Join thousands of others to get the FREEDOM POST free newsletter, sent twice a week by The Christian Post.

Ruth R. Culp