Healthcare workers across the country were mandated to receive the COVID vaccine when it first came to market with very few exceptions. Unlike the flu vaccine, most healthcare systems did not allow for religious exemptions or many medical exemptions. In fact, there were reports of individuals being required to receive the full series vaccine (and boosters) despite life-threatening allergies and a history of severe reactions to vaccines. The other option – termination.
As a result of the mandate, healthcare professionals across the country filed class action lawsuits. The first settlement has been reached. NorthShore University HealthSystem in Chicago has agreed to pay $10,337,500 to over 500 current and former employees.
“If NorthShore had agreed then to follow the law and grant religious exemptions, the matter would have been quickly resolved and it would have cost it nothing,” Liberty Counsel said.
In addition to the payment, NorthShore will change its vaccine policy to accommodate religious exemptions and has plans to rehire former employees who were fired or forced to resign when their exemption requests were denied.
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Liberty Counsel, the nonprofit religious freedom organization, represented NorthShore employees, alleging they were discriminated against as a result of being denied religious exemptions for the COVID vaccine.
This is the “first-of-its-kind class action settlement against a private employer who unlawfully denied hundreds of religious exemption requests to COVID-19 shots,” Liberty Counsel said. Mat Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, said it “should be a wake-up call to every employer that did not accommodate or exempt employees who opposed the COVID shots for religious reasons. Let this case be a warning to employers that violated Title VII.” Title VII prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin.
In the settlement, employees that were fired as a result of the “Mandatory COVID-19 Vaccination Policy.” are eligible for rehire and can apply for positions at their previously held seniority level within 90 days of the court approving the final settlement. While the hospitals and plaintiffs have reached a settlement, it must be approved by the court system.
NorthShore’s director of PR, Colette Urban, said, “We continue to support system-wide, evidence-based vaccination requirements for everyone who works at NorthShore – Edward-Elmhurst Health and thank our team members for helping to keep our communities safe. The settlement reflects implementation of a new system-wide vaccine policy which will include accommodation for team members with approved exemptions, including former employees who are rehired.”
Employees that were not terminated and became vaccinated in order to keep their jobs will receive roughly $3,000. Those that were fired or quit after their requests were denied will receive approximately $25,000. The 13 employees who were the lead plaintiffs will receive an additional payment of roughly $20,000 each. Liberty Counsel will receive 20% of the settlement amount of $2,061,500 to cover attorney fees and costs.
Liberty Counsel’s VP of Legal Affairs and Chief Litigation Counsel Horatio G. Mihet said, “The drastic policy change and substantial monetary relief required by the settlement will bring a strong measure of justice to NorthShore’s employees who were callously forced to choose between their conscience and their jobs. This settlement should also serve as a strong warning to employers across the nation that they cannot refuse to accommodate those with sincere religious objections to forced vaccination mandates.”