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Wal-Mart Justified in Terminating Pharmacist Who Would Not Deal With Customers' Birth Control Questions

    Client Alerts
  • June 08, 2007

In a number of recent cases, pharmacies have been sued by employees who claim that their religious convictions forbid them from dispensing birth control prescriptions.  The employees claim that Title VII  A new Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals decision, Noesen v, Medical Staffing Network, Inc., demonstrates the legal limits of this accommodation requirement.  The plaintiff was a pharmacist at a Wal-Mart store in Wisconsin.  When hired, he advised Wal-Mart that as an observant Catholic, he would refuse any duties associated with providing birth control.  Wal-Mart initially agreed to accommodate the plaintiff by having other pharmacists deal with customers’ contraceptive requests.  However, the plaintiff adamantly refused to speak even briefly with customers in person or on the phone about any questions relating to birth control, and would simply walk away or ignore telephone messages. requires employers to accommodate their religious beliefs by relieving them of duties associated with birth control.

Wal-Mart eventually advised the pharmacist that due to the volume of customer business, he could not simply ignore patients’ information requests.  He was terminated after refusing to leave the store following his refusal to comply with his employer’s requirements.  The Seventh Circuit affirmed dismissal of his claim on summary judgment.  The court concluded that Title VII’s religious accommodation principles did not require the plaintiff’s employer to remove him from any contact with customers asking questions about contraceptives.  Doing so would have placed an undue hardship on the pharmacy because other employees would be required to assume a disproportionate amount of work.  Wal-Mart was not required to rearrange staffing or incur higher costs based on the plaintiff’s inflexibility.  In ruling for the company, the court appeared influenced by Wal-Mart’s attempts to accommodate the plaintiff’s beliefs.  Unlike the ADA, Title VII’s religious accommodation requirements will not require employers to incur more than de minimis costs or disruption.