Hospital Required Employee to Take Flu Shot Despite His Religious Beliefs, Federal Agency Charges
NASHVILLE, Tenn, - Saint Thomas Health (STH), operating Saint Thomas Rutherford Hospital in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, violated federal law by demanding that a worker take a flu shot despite his religious beliefs, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit filed September 28, 2018.
According to the EEOC's lawsuit, STH required all workers at Saint Thomas Rutherford Hospital to have an annual flu shot, including employees of TouchPoint Support Services (TouchPoint). TouchPoint provides food and environmental services at the hospital. STH allowed a TouchPoint employee, because of his religious beliefs, to wear a protective mask instead of having a flu shot in 2013 and 2014. When this employee asked again in 2015 not to have a flu shot, STH denied his request. When this employee refused to take a flu shot, STH told him and TouchPoint that he could no longer work at the hospital.
Such alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employers from denying reasonable accommodation of an employee's sincerely held religious beliefs. The EEOC filed suit (EEOC v. Saint Thomas Health, Civil Action No. 3:18-cv-00978) in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee, Nashville Division, after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The EEOC seeks injunctive relief prohibiting STH from denying religious accommodations in the future, as well as backpay, compensatory and punitive damages.
"For several years, STH accommodated the employee's religious belief. Then, STH refused to accommodate his religious belief. An employer should not force an employee to choose between employment and his religious belief unless doing so would cause an undue hardship to the employer," said Delner Franklin-Thomas, director of the EEOC's Memphis District Office.
According to its website, STH is a family of Middle Tennessee hospitals and physician practices. STH is the leading faith-based health care system in Tennessee and is part of Ascension, the largest non-profit health system in the U.S. and the world's largest Catholic health system.
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