Pharmacist Sues Former Employer, Alleges Employment Discrimination

Publication
Article
Pharmacy TimesJuly 2023
Volume 89
Issue 7

Selection of a different candidate to manage a national nuclear pharmacy chain spurs gender-based discrimination lawsuit.

ISSUE OF THE CASE

A pharmacist was not selected for a management position with a national nuclear pharmacy chain, and she filed a lawsuit against the employer alleging gender discrimination based on the state’s human rights act. Should the case as filed be dismissed or allowed to proceed to trial?

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Image credit: Dianaduda - stock.adobe.com

FACTS OF THE CASE

The pharmacist who filed the lawsuit had been in a staff pharmacist role at the local operation of the national nuclear pharmacy chain for nearly 6 years. She resigned from that position to pursue an opportunity for a management position with a national community pharmacy chain. However, she continued her affiliation with the nuclear pharmacy as an on-call pharmacist to fill in when needed.

The pharmacy manager position at the nuclear pharmacy became available and she was one of 17 applicants. The pharmacist selected to fill the position was an internal candidate who had been working for the nuclear pharmacy chain for more than years. Additionally, the successful candidate had been in a supervisory role at another location of the nuclear pharmacy chain.

The plaintiff (the former employee) had worked on an as-needed basis for the nuclear pharmacy operation 14 days during the calendar year before the other applicant was hired for the management position. She had also worked only 1 day for her former full-time employer during the year when the other applicant was hired and, further, had declined to work there during a 3-month scheduling window following the other applicant’s starting date. The nuclear pharmacy chain terminated her status as an on-call pharmacist with the firm.

The plaintiff filed a gender-based discrimination lawsuit in state court initially based on the state’s human rights act. The matter was transferred to federal court because the parties to the lawsuit were from different states.

The attorneys for the defendant (the nuclear pharmacy chain) made a motion with the federal trial court judge to have the lawsuit dismissed because some of the essential elements required by the state antidiscrimination statute were absent. The plaintiff needed to prove (1) that she was a member of a protected class of individuals, (2) that she applied for the job and was denied the position, (3) that she was qualified for the job, and (4) that she was rejected for the opportunity in favor of a similarly situated applicant outside her protected group. The firm’s argument in response was that she had met (1) and (2) in her legal filings, but that she had not met (3) and (4).

THE COURT’S RULING

The federal trial court judge ruled in favor of the nuclear pharmacy chain’s motion for grant of summary judgment and dismissed the lawsuit.

THE COURT’S REASONING

The judge reviewing the motion identified the basis for deciding the matter as being whether there was no genuine dispute regarding any material fact. Deciding whether a fact is material in the context of the case being reviewed is based on whether an essential element of the case is present or absent. Does the evidence presented create a significant disagreement that requires the action of a jury to decide, or is it so 1-sided that no involvement of a jury is required? If the judge concludes that it is the latter, then the matter should be dismissed. This approach is intended to be mindful and considerate of the time devoted to this process by any potential jurors.

The judge concluded that the applicant for the position who was ultimately selected was fully qualified for the specialized management role at a nuclear pharmacy and also was significantly more qualified than the pharmacist mounting the challenge. The court pointed to the fact that the plaintiff had not worked in a nuclear pharmacy on a full-time basis for more than 2 years.

Additionally, the judge noted that there was a very real distinction between being the manager of a chain community pharmacy and being the manager of a chain nuclear pharmacy. Turning to numbers, the judge emphasized that the nuclear pharmacy manager position involved supervising 15 employees, including a radiation safety officer, whereas in her role with the community pharmacy chain, the plaintiff had oversight responsibility for only 5 employees.

Finally, the successful applicant for the position had at least 10 years’ more experience in nuclear pharmacy practice than the plaintiff. Additionally, the pharmacist selected for the position had prior experience in management at a nuclear pharmacy.

Because of the much more extensive and relevant experience by the pharmacist who had been selected to manage the nuclear pharmacy, the plaintiff’s case fell short in her argument that she had been overlooked for hiring by the decision to select a “similarly situated” applicant. The individual who had been hired was more qualified.

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