ALBUQUERQUE, NM—Today, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Mexico and the Southwest Women’s Law Center (SWLC) filed a lawsuit on behalf of a mother and her daughter against a Walgreens pharmacy in Albuquerque, NM, for sex-based discrimination. The complaint alleges that Walgreens, in accordance with company policy, turned the mother away and required her to go to a different pharmacy to fill her daughter’s prescription related to birth control after the on-duty pharmacist refused to fill the prescription based on his personal beliefs. As a business that serves the public, Walgreens is prohibited under the NM Human Rights Act from discriminating against women for reasons related to their reproductive health needs.
This lawsuit follows complaints filed against Walgreens with the New Mexico Human Rights Bureau in June this year.
“Our clients suffered the indignity of being denied a service and turned away because of sex. This is exactly the kind of discrimination that the New Mexico Human Rights Act prohibits,” said ACLU of New Mexico Reproductive Rights Attorney Erin Armstrong. “Walgreens must not discriminate against women, even when accommodating employees’ religious or moral objections to providing services. Open for business means open for everyone.”
“We want to make sure that a woman can walk into any Walgreens with full confidence that she will be able to access medications related to her reproductive health without fear of discrimination,” said SW Women’s Law Center Executive Director Pamelya Herndon.
The incident which spurred this lawsuit occurred in August of 2016, when M.S. (initials used to protect the client’s privacy) went to her neighborhood Walgreens pharmacy to fill three medications prescribed for her daughter in preparation for an IUD insertion procedure. At the pharmacy, M.S. was turned away and told to go to another pharmacy to pick up one of the three prescribed medications, which is commonly used for various reproductive health purposes, including cervical preparation before IUD insertion. When M.S. asked for an explanation, the pharmacist on duty told her that, despite having the medication currently in stock, he refused to fill the prescription because of his “personal beliefs.” Walgreens did not have a back-up pharmacist on duty, nor did they make any known efforts to fill the prescription onsite. The only solution that Walgreens offered M.S. was to transfer the prescription to another pharmacy.
In addition to the inconvenience of having to travel to an alternate pharmacy to obtain the time-sensitive, prescribed medication, M.S. and her daughter experienced the emotional impact of discrimination. M.S. felt judged, disrespected, and embarrassed by the incident; her daughter felt extremely uncomfortable at the prospect of having to seek the pharmacy’s permission to access her chosen and prescribed contraceptive care.