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Third CVS nurse practitioner claims she was fired for her religious beliefs: lawsuit

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

A major pharmacy chain denies allegations of wrongdoing as it faces another lawsuit for terminating an employee who refused to provide abortion-inducing drugs in violation of her deeply held religious beliefs.

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

Operated by CVS, MinuteClinics provide “non-emergent medical treatment to patients on an appointment and walk-in basis.” 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 cause abortion — including drugs like certain hormonal contraceptives, Plan B and Ella.” 

Schuler successfully obtained religious exemptions to a 2011 requirement that nurse practitioners refill birth control prescriptions and a 2015 amendment to her job description requiring her to prescribe contraceptives, including abortion-inducing drugs.   

The complaint contends that “Nothing changed in terms of the job description of a nurse practitioner according to the position summary of CVS for that position in 2021 and nothing in the 2021 job description added different obligations that did not exist under the prior published job description.” It asserts that 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.”

The complaint clarified that “the only thing that changed in 2021 was that CVS labeled providing counseling and advice about contraceptives, abortifacients, and other birth control options as ‘essential functions.’”

The lawsuit asks a federal court to grant Schuler’s request for “damages, including lost wages and benefits and wages due to her termination, unpaid lost wages due to wrongful discharge or constructive discharge, back pay, reinstatement or front pay, prejudgment 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, reductions in wages, expenses costs and other damages.”

Prior to filing the lawsuit, Schuler had submitted a Charge of Discrimination to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. MinuteClinic responded to the EEOC complaint in a Mar. 4 position statement, writing, “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.”

“MinuteClinic’s business model has transitioned from a retail or acute care model to a more holistic health services model. 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.”

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 declared that the only way to accommodate her religious beliefs “would therefore have been to turn away patients seeking such services, refer them to a different business entirely, and/or to inform patients that they needed to return to a different practitioner at the same clinic on a different day.”

The response to the EEOC complaint repeatedly cited the “new business model” as the justification for its decision to cease accommodating Schuler’s religious beliefs, stressing that her “assertion that MinuteClinic had allowed her to turn away patients in prior years is of no import where its business needs had changed.” The document called on the EEOC to dismiss Schuler’s claims for “lack of probable cause,” suggesting that “Complainant will be unable to establish that MinuteClinic engaged in discriminatory conduct.”

The complaint filed in federal court Wednesday pushes back on the idea that Schuler’s failure to provide contraception constituted an undue hardship on her employer’s business model: “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.”

Additionally, the lawsuit said that the MinuteClinic Schuler primarily worked at “was not staffed on a daily basis to provide every service to a customer (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/LPN on simultaneous duty with a nurse practitioner did not occur. There were not enough RN/LPN applicants. For the Kansas metropolitan area, CVS generally only had an RN/LPN assigned to three of ten or eleven CVS clinics which did not cover the entire operational day or to cover all of the seven days in 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 EEOC complaint, respectively. Wednesday’s lawsuit contains references to the other two nurse practitioners.

Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at: ryan.foley@christianpost.com

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