Justice Department Sued Nursing Home for Religious Discrimination


According to Barnell Williams’ claims, she was forced to get a flu shot even after she explained that the vaccine went against her religious beliefs. Williams worked in the county-owned nursing home, Lasata Care Center, in 2016, when they mandated she get a flu shot as a condition to continue working there. Her body is a holy temple, and the Bible prohibits her from putting foreign substances into it, Williams allegedly told her employer, The Washington Post reports.

On March 6, the federal government sued Wisconsin’s Ozaukee County because of religious discrimination that Williams faced in 2016. Williams, a certified nursing assistant, had worked at the nursing home from December 2015 to June 2017, according to the lawsuit. They stated in the lawsuit that there was a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The nursing home, located in Cedarsburg, Wis., did allow their employees to be exempt from an annual flu shot on the basis of religion. But it required employees to submit a “written statement from their clergy leader supporting the exception with a clear reason and explanation,” according to the lawsuit. Those who were exempt would wear protective face masks during flu season.

Williams at the time did not belong to a specific church or organized religion and therefore couldn’t get a clergy leader to write her an exemption before the nursing home’s deadline. She explained her situation to the nursing home’s administrator at the time, who did not offer Williams an alternative way of verifying her religious beliefs, according to the lawsuit.

“When Lasata denied Ms. Williams’ request for a religious exemption, she submitted to the flu shot, despite her religious objections, because she was told that her refusal would result in her termination,” the Justice Department said in a statement. The lawsuit alleges that the administrator told Williams that if she did not get vaccinated, “Consider this your last day.”

The US Department of Justice reports - “When employees’ religious principles conflict with work rules, they should not have to choose between practicing their religion and keeping their jobs if a reasonable accommodation can be made without undue hardship to the employer,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General John Gore for the Civil Rights Division. “Employers should take care not to craft policies that disfavor individuals because of their sincerely held religious beliefs or practices in violation of Title VII.” Title VII is a federal statute that prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex and religion.

The question is whether anyone could be allowed to avoid the vaccine if he or she works in some kind of health center. By exercising their right to choose, health organizations may endanger the health and even the lives of patients who are in contact with unvaccinated staff. But when there is religious exemption, the same treatment should be applied to all employees.

Williams’s complaint was first investigated by the Chicago District Office of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which referred it to the Justice Department.

Photo Credits: CBC - Canadian Broadcasting Corporation

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