After working six and a half years with CVS MinuteClinic in Keller, Texas, nurse practitioner Robyn Strader is suing the retail pharmaceutical company, after she was fired for refusing to prescribe hormonal contraceptives.
According to the complaint filed last week, Berry and Pratt are citing violations of Title VII, Texas’s law against religious discrimination, and the state’s law protecting medical personnel from participating in abortions. Strader’s legal representatives are Jonathan Berry of Boyden Gray and Associates and Christine Pratt of First Liberty Institute, a nonprofit conservative Christian organization headquartered in Plano that is known for handling Christian religious liberty cases.
“When she was first hired, CVS had no scruples about following faithfully the requirements of Title VII,” said Pratt. “Now there seems to be a change in leadership somewhere in CVS and they no longer want to accommodate religious beliefs that are pro-life, even if accommodating those beliefs poses very little to no burden to CVS.”
Under Title VII, it is illegal for employers to discriminate against an employee based on race, religion, gender or nationality. According to Pratt this federal law also states all cases of religious accommodations should be evaluated on an individual basis.
Which Pratt is claiming CVS is not doing. This is because CVS terminated Strader in October 2021, just one month after announcing that all religious accommodations would no longer apply to providing reproductive healthcare in the company’s MinuteClinics.
CVS made this a blanket nationwide policy, according to Pratt, and denied Strader the ability to keep her religious accommodations.
Prior to getting terminated, Strader, who is a devout Baptist was allowed to refer patients seeking contraception or other reproductive health care to another nurse practitioner in her clinic or to the neighboring Minute Clinic that was five minutes away, said Strader.
Her manager was aware of these accommodations and had previously promised Strader that she would never have to prescribe contraceptives while she worked there. “This wasn’t an issue until the August, I had not had any pressure or negativity about not prescribing these medications,” said Strader.
After the policy change, her manager approached her saying she needed to decide about changing her mind or she would risk losing her job. This turned into weekly check-ins, and phone calls on the nurse practitioner’s days off, to see what her decision would be.
“She started out generally wanting to know which direction I was going to take then she got aggressive, demanding I change my religious views, or I would be fired,” said Strader. “I kept telling her, I am not going to change my position, CVS is going to have to change theirs. I just saw this change in culture, something that I had not experienced in my previous years there.”
Prior to getting terminated, Strader had tried to contact CVS’s human resources department and sent letters to their legal team, to see if they could continue to accommodate her or assist with the situation, but all requests remained unanswered.
The only contact CVS has had with Strader was through First Liberty, after the legal organization sent a letter on behalf of the nurse practitioner. They responded and said that they could not accommodate her further, said Pratt.
Pratt claims that CVS did not have to terminate Strader and could have easily placed her in an alternative employment opportunity but chose not to do so. “It would have been easy to put Robyn in a virtual MinuteClinic nurse practitioner position,” said Pratt. “In this situation, if she did receive a request for contraception, she could instantly without any lapse of time or expense just transfer that patient to another virtual nurse practitioner.
Strader is not the only nurse practitioner suing CVS, there are currently lawsuits filed in Florida, Kansas, and Virginia against CVS. All these nurse practitioners were fired for the same reason as Strader, around the same time as Strader, according to Pratt.
Zaena Zamora, executive director of Frontera Fund, said that lawsuits like these are furthering the gap between access to essential health care. “Texans are already lacking basic access to reproductive health care, so when you see these types of lawsuits, and these people are claiming religious exemptions, it’s just creating another barrier to that access,” said Zamora.
Just this last week, Zamora said the Texas Legislature introduced a bill that would allow pharmacists the right to deny birth control and emergency contraception.
“I understand having a religious belief and not believing in birth control and then as an individual person, not getting birth control for yourself, but as a health care worker, there’s some cognitive dissonance going on there,” said Zamora.
In a statement given to the Houston Press by a spokeswoman from CVS, CVS responded to Strader’s lawsuit.
CVS’s full statement below:
We have a well-defined process in place for employees to request and be granted a reasonable accommodation due to their religious beliefs, which in some cases can be an exemption from performing certain job functions. It is not possible, however, to grant an accommodation that exempts an employee from performing the essential functions of their job. As we continue to enhance our MinuteClinic services, educating and treating patients regarding sexual health matters - including pregnancy prevention, sexually transmitted infection prevention, screening and treatment, and safer sex practices - have become essential job functions of our providers and nurses. We cannot grant exemptions from these essential MinuteClinic functions unless it is required by state law.
Since getting fired, Strader has returned to work as a nurse practitioner, but did not disclose what clinic or company she is now working for. “I am just hoping that the wrong that occurred to me is corrected, so that people of faith don’t have to worry about where they work or having to choose between their sincerely held beliefs and the job they do,” said Strader.