'I left the store feeling mortified': Transgender woman says CVS pharmacist refused to fill her prescription

Elise Solé
CVS has apologized to a transgender woman named Hilde Hall after a pharmacist refused to fill her prescription. (Photo: ACLU of Arizona)

A CVS pharmacist is no longer employed at the company after he refused to fill a prescription for a transgender woman, leaving her “embarrassed and distressed.”

Hilde Hall described the incident in a Thursday blog post for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). “On a recent day in April, I left my doctor’s office elated,” she wrote. “I was carrying my first prescriptions for hormone therapy. I was finally going to start seeing my body reflect my gender identity and the woman I’ve always known myself to be.”

She then headed to a CVS store in Fountain Hills, Ariz., with three prescriptions for hormone therapy. “That’s when my day took a turn,” she wrote. “After years of working to affirm my identity in a world where transgender people are questioned constantly about how well they know themselves, the pharmacist refused to fill one of the prescriptions needed to affirm my identity.”

Hall says the pharmacist didn’t clarify why he wouldn’t administer her medication. “He just kept asking, loudly and in front of other CVS staff and customers, why I was given the prescriptions. Embarrassed and distressed, I nearly started crying in the middle of the store. I didn’t want to answer why I had been prescribed this hormone therapy combination by my doctor. I felt like the pharmacist was trying to out me as transgender in front of strangers. I just froze and worked on holding back the tears. When I asked for my doctor’s prescription note, the pharmacist refused to give it back, so I was not even able to take it to another pharmacy to have my prescription filled. I left the store feeling mortified.”

Hilde Hall outside the CVS pharmacy in Fountain Hills, Ariz. (Photo: ACLU of Arizona)

The woman’s doctor even called the pharmacy to advocate for the patient, but the pharmacist refused to comply. “My doctor ended up having to call the prescription into the local Walgreens, where the medication was filled without question,” wrote Hall. “I transferred all of my prescriptions there so that I never again have to see the pharmacist who discriminated against me.”

Hall says the overall issue is more significant than her personal experience. “My family supports me, fortunately, and helped me work through the anger and humiliation this experience caused,” she wrote. “But many other transgender people are not as fortunate as I am. I don’t want to think about what might happen if this pharmacist mistreats a transgender person who does not have a good social support system.”

She added, “Through training and written policies, the company needs to make it clear to their employees — especially their pharmacists — that transgender customers deserve respect. No healthcare worker should rely on personal beliefs to reject decisions made by doctors and their transgender patients about medically necessary care.”

Hall filed a complaint with the Arizona State Board of Pharmacy, which oversees the industry, and her ACLU blog post has elicited strong reactions on Twitter. At one point, a petition created by the ACLU and signed by nearly 25,000 people demanded an apology from the brand.

CVS sent the following statement to Yahoo Lifestyle: “CVS Health extends its sincere apologies to Ms. Hall for her experience at our pharmacy in Fountain Hills, Arizona, last spring. The conduct of the pharmacist, who is no longer employed by CVS, violated company policies and does not reflect our values or our commitment to inclusion, nondiscrimination and the delivery of outstanding patient care.”

The statement added, “We are very proud to have earned a perfect score on the Human Rights Campaign’s (HRC) Corporate Equality Index for the past four consecutive years for our policies and practices related to LGBTQ equality. In fact, CVS pharmacists were directly involved in the development of the HRC’s resource guide for providing pharmacy care and services to LGBTQ patients. We also apologize for not appropriately following up on Ms. Hall’s original complaint to CVS, which was due to an unintentional oversight. We pride ourselves in addressing customer concerns in a timely manner and we are taking steps to prevent this isolated occurrence from happening again.” 

When asked by Yahoo Lifestyle whether the pharmacist was explicitly fired, a CVS spokesperson said, “We cannot comment on the details of employment matters.”

Hall has declined to give interviews, but a spokesperson for the ACLU of Arizona tells Yahoo Lifestyle that after her initial complaints were “blown off” by CVS, she received a phone apology from its corporate offices, and she is happy with the outcome.

“This pharmacist violated federal law under the Affordable Care Act with respect to the nondiscrimination protections,” says the spokesperson. “If people have similar complaints, they should file complaints with state regulatory agencies and communicate with corporations so this type of behavior can be tracked.”

According to AZ Central, Arizona and five other states allow pharmacists to refuse to fill prescriptions based on religious or moral beliefs. In June, a woman who visited an Arizona Walgreens to fill a prescription to treat her miscarriage was denied by a pharmacist.

“I stood at the mercy of this pharmacist explaining my situation in front of my 7-year-old and five customers standing behind only to be denied because of his ethical beliefs,” mom Nicole Arteaga wrote in a viral Facebook post

Walgreens told AZ Central that its pharmacists could decline to fill a prescription on moral grounds, but they’re required to allow a co-worker to complete the transaction, something Arteaga says was not an option in her case.

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