By James B. Kelleher
CHICAGO (Reuters) - A pharmacist fired by the nation's largest drugstore chain after he foiled a late-night armed robbery of his Michigan store by shooting at the gunmen has sued Walgreens for wrongful termination.
The federal suit accuses Walgreens of violating Jeremy Hoven's civil rights when it terminated his employment in May just days after the attempted holdup of the store where he had worked for over five years.
According to the lawsuit, two masked gunmen entered Hoven's store in Benton Harbor, Michigan, before dawn on May 8 when he and three other employees were working.
Hoven tried to call 911. But before he could get through, one of the gunmen -- holding another Walgreens co-worker at gunpoint -- jumped over the pharmacy counter, pointed his weapon at Hoven and began "jerking the gun's trigger," the lawsuit said.
Hoven, who obtained a permit to carry a concealed weapon after the same store was robbed while he worked in 2007, drew his gun and fired several times, prompting the gunmen to flee, according to the lawsuit.
No employees or customers were hurt in the incident. But about a week later, Hoven was fired for violating Walgreens' "non-escalation policy" as well as a policy barring employees from carrying weapons while they work.
Tiffani Washington, a spokeswoman for the Illinois-based company, said Hoven's actions broke procedures that Walgreens' developed in cooperation with law enforcement.
"Our policies in this area are created to maintain maximum safety for our customers and employees," Washington said.
"Our employees receive very comprehensive training on what to do in the event of this kind of situation ... Compliance is safer than confrontation."
Hoven said he was exercising his right to defend himself and his fellow employees and his right to carry a concealed weapon. He said his firing violates, among other things, his constitutional right to bear arms.
In its official response to the lawsuit, Walgreens lawyers denied most of Hoven's claims, including that there was an armed robbery in progress. They say the company, which operates more than 8,000 stores in the United States, had a "plausible and legitimate business reason to justify the firing."
In response, Hoven's attorneys have released a video of the incident taken by the store's surveillance cameras that shows an armed man dragging an employee through the store and then hopping over the pharmacy counter.
After Hoven fires his weapon at the man, the gunman flees the store, dropping his weapon on the way out.
(Editing by Cynthia Johnston)