A Tennessee pharmacist is claiming Walgreens fired him for refusing to sell Plan B — also known as the "morning-after pill" — despite his religious objections.
Phillip Hall was fired in August by his store manager because he was unwilling to sell a drug he found "sinful and repugnant to his sincerely held religious beliefs," according to a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Nashville.
A Walgreen Co. spokesman declined to comment on pending litigation, but noted "company policy allows pharmacists and other employees to step away from completing a transaction to which they have a moral objection" and refer a customer to a colleague or manager.
Hall's dismissal came within weeks of a change in U.S. Food and Drug Administration rules allowing Plan B to be sold over the counter. Before July 1, the drug had been available only behind pharmacy counters.
When the first shipment of over-the-counter Plan B arrived at the store, Hall bought all of it, paying $324.83. Then he disposed of it. Hall was fired two weeks later.
"This was not a decision that was easy for him to make, but one that is firmly grounded in his religious convictions," said Larry Crain, a Brentwood-based attorney with Crain, Schuette & Associates who represents the Jamestown pharmacist. Crain said Hall is a deacon at his Baptist church and had worked for Walgreens since 1997.
In the past, Hall's bosses had accommodated his religious objections and he had not been required to sell the drug.
At a July employee meeting about the change to over-the-counter sales, Hall claims pharmacists and staff were told they needed to stock and sell the drug. Hall objected.
When a shipment of six boxes of the drug arrived shortly afterward, Hall noted they were "mislabeled" as a behind-the-counter drug, and "rather than place the inaccurately labeled Plan B on the shelf for sale, Dr. Hall decided to purchase the entire lot of the drugs himself," the lawsuit said.
Confronted by a loss prevention specialist about the unstocked boxes, Hall provided proof of purchase, and then he was fired, the lawsuit said. Hall claims he contacted another supervisor after he got fired and was told "it was part of his job duties to sell Plan B."
Hall's lawsuit is among a handful of similar suits filed by pharmacists across the country over the sale of Plan B, also known as levonorgestrel, Crain said. None of the lawsuits has found its way to an appeals court for a broader ruling.
Plan B is controversial. Abortion opponents consider it an abortifacient that terminates a pregnancy in its earliest stages. Reproductive rights advocates say it is an emergency contraceptive that can be used to prevent pregnancy in the immediate aftermath of unprotected sex.