On March 6, 2018, the Department of Justice filed a lawsuit in a federal district court against Ozaukee County, Wisconsin. The Department was suing on behalf of Barnell Williams, a certified nursing assistant in Lasata Care Center, a nursing home, who was claiming emotional distress from being forced to get a flu vaccination for work when getting one contradicted her religious beliefs.
This is not the first lawsuit brought under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 on the issue of the flu vaccination for healthcare workers, the claims are not new, and the lawsuit seems well founded. I was not going to write about it because there really is nothing new there, but following several news articles on the topic (here and here), people had questions about it, so this is a short post addressing legal issues surrounding flu vaccination.
While in one of the cases the hospital could have been more accommodating, by and large the EEOC’s intervention in the case is unfortunate and misguided. At this point, the case is in the fact-finding stage, with trial only due in October 2017. I hope that before that the EEOC will reconsider its position.
Hospitals are almost certainly not required to offer any religious exemption from influenza mandates under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and if they do, setting a procedure to do so and a timeline before influenza season is very reasonable. The EEOC was wrong to attack the policy: its attack can undermine the influenza mandate and doing so can put vulnerable people at risk.
In a previous post, I described a New Jersey Court of Appeals case in which Ms. Valent was denied unemployment benefits because she refused flu vaccines without claiming the religious exemption. I explained that the hospital was not constitutionally required to provide a religious exemption, and that doing so was a losing proposition from a hospital’s point of view.
In the comments following that post, it was correctly pointed out to me that there is another claim I should have addressed: a claim that the hospital was required to provide a religious exemption under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This did not come up in the case itself: the court reinstated the nurse’s unemployment benefits on constitutional grounds, though problematic constitutional grounds. But since I argue that hospitals should not offer a religious exemption, I need to address whether the hospital is required, under Title VII, to offer an accommodation. Continue reading “Health Care Workers, Flu Vaccines, and Work Place Discrimination”