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CVS employee fired for refusing to sell birth control sues, claiming discrimination


(RNS) — A former CVS Health employee filed a federal lawsuit in Florida against the company after she was fired for refusing to prescribe contraceptives due to her religious beliefs.

The employee, nurse practitioner Gunna Kristofersdottir, joins three other former CVS workers who sued the company for religious discrimination after being fired for similar reasons. 

Kristofersdottir is being represented by the religious freedom-oriented legal group First Liberty Institute. Its lawyers argue that the company’s refusal to exempt religious employees from filling contraceptive prescriptions constitutes religion-based discrimination and a Title VII violation.

Gunna Kristofersdottir

The Title VII law of the 1964 Civil Rights Act protects employees and job applicants from discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin.

“It’s important that nurse practitioners are able to serve their patients in a way that doesn’t require them to violate their religious beliefs,” said Stephanie Taub, senior counsel at First Liberty Institute.

A Roman Catholic, Kristofersdottir believes “the procreative potential of intercourse” shouldn’t be “subverted by the device or procedure,” according to the complaint filed by First Liberty this month. The court document quotes portions of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which summarizes the Catholic Church’s doctrine. 

During her eight years at various Florida CVS clinics, Kristofersdottir benefited from a religious accommodation. After informing her managers of her wishes and filling out a form, she was excused from prescribing hormonal contraceptives and abortion drugs. When clients asked Kristofersdottir for guidance on contraceptive products, she referred them to another employee. 

But three years ago, her religious accommodation was revoked as part of a broader change in the company’s policy on religious exemptions.

In August 2021, CVS’ chief nursing officer, Angela Patterson, announced that all employees would be required to perform functions deemed essential, including all services related to sexual health. 

When Kristofersdottir learned about the new policy, she said, she asked to be sent to another CVS Health facility. Her demand was denied, and she was fired in March 2022. 

Taub argued that the company had legal obligations to explore alternatives to accommodate Kristofersdottir. 

In an email statement, Mike DeAngelis, CVS Health’s director of communications, wrote that the company still has a specific policy to grant “reasonable” religious accommodations “unless it poses an undue hardship on the business and our ability to provide convenient, accessible care to our patient.”

“We continue to enhance our MinuteClinic services, growing from providing urgent care to offering more holistic care,” wrote DeAngelis. 

First Liberty Institute specializes in cases related to religious freedom and regularly raises funds to finance its defense of clients in similar situations. Earlier this month, the firm filed a suit on behalf of Robyn Strader, a Baptist nurse practitioner from Texas who was fired from CVS for similar reasons. 

In an article published on the First Liberty Institute website, Jorge Gomez, a content manager for the law firm, wrote that CVS’ refusal to grant religious exemptions sends a message “that religious health care workers are not welcome and need not apply” and that “instead of following the law, CVS preferred to join the ranks of the ‘woke’ corporations rendering religious employees second class citizens.” 

Since CVS enacted the new policy, two other nurse practitioners have also sued the company, alleging religious discrimination. In September 2022, Page Casey, a former CVS employee from Virginia, sued after she was fired for refusing to prescribe contraceptives. She is represented by Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian conservative legal group. 

In October 2022, Suzanne Schuler, a former CVS employee from Kansas, sued the company after her religious accommodation was revoked. In October 2023, both parties settled. 

In January, CVS and Walgreens announced they would be selling the mifepristone abortion pill after the Food and Drug Administration dropped a 20-year rule that prevented drugstores from doing so. The pill, available on the market since 2000, can be used through the 10th week of pregnancy. 

Since November 2022, the Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine, an anti-abortion group, has been challenging the FDA’s approval of the drug at the Supreme Court. The group includes religious organizations such as the Catholic Medical Association, the Christian Medical & Dental Associations and the Coptic Medical Association of North America. 

From Religion News Service. May not be republished.

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  • Fiona André