Wal-Mart Wins “Religious Freedom” Case Againt Pharmacist Who Refused To Fill Birth Control Prescriptions

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According to Wired.com:

A federal judge dismissed a Roman Catholic pharmacist’s claim that he was fired by Wal-Mart Stores for refusing to fill birth control prescriptions and that the dismissal violated his religious freedom.

U.S. District Judge John Shabaz said Neil Noesen was actually fired from the Onalaska [WI] store last summer because he was disruptive and wasn’t meeting expectations. The Thursday ruling said Wal-Mart accommodated Noesen’s religious opposition to birth control by having other pharmacists fill prescriptions. It also said Noesen went too far by trying to avoid any interaction with those customers, leading to poor customer service.

A more detailed account from the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune is available here. It notes:

…The state Pharmacy Examining Board sanctioned Noesen last year after he refused to fill a contraceptive prescription or transfer it to another pharmacy while he was a temporary pharmacist at a Menomonie Kmart in 2002. The board reprimanded him and forced him to attend ethics classes, saying he could not stand in the way of the woman’s care.

The case prompted Republican lawmakers to introduce a bill prohibiting state regulators from punishing pharmacists who refuse to dispense birth control but the plan failed to win approval in either chamber.

Adler said the staffing agency was aware of his religious beliefs when he was hired and signed an agreement allowing him to decline to fill birth control prescriptions or answer inquiries about them. But she said he became a disruption when he repeatedly failed to find other pharmacists to help the patients after just five days on the job.

Noesen, of St. Paul, Minn., argued the agreement he signed allowed him to simply walk away from them and that his boss was pressuring him to help customers seeking birth control.

When Wal-Mart asked him to leave the store, he refused and was eventually dragged out in a wheelchair by police in Onalaska, a city of 15,000 near La Crosse in western Wisconsin, according to the judge’s ruling. Last month, he was convicted of resisting arrest but acquitted on a disorderly conduct charge stemming from that incident.

Noesen, 32, represented himself in the federal lawsuit filed earlier this year. There was no phone listing available for him in the St. Paul area.

Noesen’s license to practice in Wisconsin expired Wednesday, according to the Department of Regulation and Licensing. He has so far failed to provide proof that he took the ethics classes or pay back the $20,767 cost of the disciplinary action against him, said Steve Gloe, general counsel of the agency. His license cannot be renewed until he pays the costs.

Here is a copy of the Final Order in the disciplinary hearings brought againt Noesen before the State of Wisconsin’s Pharmacy Examining Board. It provides specific details about Noesen’s actions. As soon as I find an online copy of Judge Shabaz’s ruling I will link to it as well.

–Ann Bartow

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