(FOX 9) – In a landmark case, a jury found that a Minnesota pharmacy did not discriminate against a woman who was denied the morning-after pill in 2019, but the jury awarded her $25,000.
The lawsuit, filed in December 2019, alleged that McGregor Pharmacy (formerly Thrift White) violated the provisions of the Minnesota Human Rights Act against discrimination.
According to court documents, McGregor Pharmacy’s pharmacist did not discriminate against Andrea Anderson, a mother and foster parent, but awarded her money for emotional harm caused by the pharmacist. The lawsuit demanded a $50,000 surplus.
“I can’t help but wonder about the other women who might be turned down,” Anderson said in a statement. “What if they accept the pharmacist’s decision and don’t realize that this behavior is wrong? What if they have no other choice? Not everyone has the means or ability to drive hundreds of miles to get a prescription. I can just hope that by coming forward and pursuing justice so that others don’t have to go through the ridiculous hurdles I did.”
The lawsuit was brought on the woman’s behalf by attorneys working with the St. Paul-based Gender Justice. The lawsuit sought a court order prohibiting pharmacists in Minnesota from refusing to fill emergency contraception prescriptions, as well as monetary compensation and damages.
“To be clear, Minnesota law prohibits gender discrimination and that includes refusing to fill emergency contraception prescriptions,” Jess Braverman, Gender Justice’s legal director, said in a statement. “The jury didn’t decide what the law is, they decided on the facts of what happened here in this particular case. We will appeal this decision and will not stop fighting until Minnesotans can get the health care they need without intervention by healthcare providers to make their own personal beliefs more important than their legal and ethical obligations to their patients.”
The lawsuit has been watched across the country.
What the lawsuit claims
According to the complaint, Andrea Anderson, a mother of five and a licensed foster parent, received a prescription from her doctor for Ella, a “morning after pill” form of emergency contraceptive medication, on Jan. 20, 2019, after her partner’s condom failed.
The couple lived for several years in McGregor, Minnesota, a small town in Aitkin County with a population of approximately 392 at the time. According to the lawsuit, the city had only one pharmacy, McGregor Thrifty White Pharmacy, operated by Aitkin Pharmacy Services, to which Anderson’s doctor sent the prescription.
However, when Anderson called the pharmacy to make sure the medication would be covered by her insurance, she was called back by the pharmacist on duty, George Badeaux, who told her he was unable to fill the prescription due to his “beliefs.” according to the complaint.
Badeaux is also said to have told Anderson not to go to another pharmacy in the area and that another pharmacist who worked at the pharmacy might be able to help her if he started his shift later that day. — but that was a blizzard coming, and that pharmacist might not be able to work, the complaint says.
Anderson, who tried to act quickly because “any delay in getting the medication increased the risk of pregnancy,” then called a CVS pharmacy in Aitkin, Minnesota. A female pharmacist there told Anderson that according to the complaint, she would not be able to fill the prescription.
The complaint says the CVS pharmacies further told Anderson that the Walgreens in Brainerd would not be able to provide the prescription either, but when Anderson later called those Walgreens directly, she got a different story.
According to the complaint, the pharmacist at the Walgreens in Brainerd told Anderson that she told the pharmacist in Aitkin that she could fill Anderson’s prescription. The Walgreens pharmacist also told Anderson that she could have the medication shipped to the store the next day, but the impending snow storm could cause delays.
The complaint says Anderson was eventually able to find a pharmacy to fill the prescription, but it was 50 miles from her home. By this time, a “huge blizzard” had begun to hit central Minnesota, and it took Anderson more than three hours to drive the 100-mile roundabout, which was about an hour longer than it normally would have taken.
The complaint says the pharmacies — the McGregor Pharmacy and the CVS in Aitkin — and their employees violated Minnesota’s anti-discrimination statutes because they “designated only health care that might become pregnant — emergency contraception — and refused to provide it.”
It also alleges that the defendant tried to prevent Anderson from “taking care of others by placing delays and obstacles in her path, not offering her a reasonable alternative, and in one instance apparently misleading her about where to get care.”
‘First of its kind’ case
Gender Justice, the organization representing the plaintiff, claims this is a “first of its kind” case. While several lawsuits have been filed across the country against pharmacists who refuse to fill emergency contraceptive prescriptions because of personal beliefs, it is being argued as a case of gender discrimination.
“What makes this case unique is that the issue is being approached from a different direction,” said Mitchell Hamline law professor David Schultz. “We need a law that has been around for many years and uses it in a way that it”‘has never been used before.”
A judge in the case ruled that because of the filing under the Human Rights Act, the pharmacist is not allowed to use his religious beliefs as a defense during the trial.
University of St Thomas law professor and director of the school’s Pro-Life Center, Teresa Collett, says not allowing the accused to speak about his religious freedoms is in itself a constitutional violation .
“If we’re going to tell people, you can be sued in court and the court can tell you how to explain your motivation — that’s problematic,” she said. “That in itself is a violation of the constitution.”
Both Collett and Schultz agree that whatever the jury decides in Aitkin County, the decision is likely to be appealed.