Applicant refused flu shot over religion and was denied job at hospital, lawsuit says

A hospital rescinded a job applicant’s offer after he asked for a religious exemption to a flu vaccine requirement, according to a Michigan lawsuit.

Mercy Health St. Mary’s, a hospital in Grand Rapids, offered the applicant a position as a business office coordinator in October 2019, according to the lawsuit filed on April 28.

The offer was contingent upon the applicant completing a physical exam and getting the flu vaccine, the lawsuit says.

In November 2019, the applicant applied for a religious exemption to the flu shot requirement, according to the lawsuit.

The hospital, which is part of the Trinity Health system, denied his application because it said his religious beliefs were “insufficient,” the lawsuit says.

When the applicant still declined to take the flu shot, the hospital rescinded his job offer, the lawsuit says.

The hospital system did not immediately respond to a request for comment from McClatchy News.

The lawsuit, filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, says that the hospital system discriminated against the applicant and violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which protects employees and applicants from discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex and national origin.

“Instead of rejecting the applicant’s religious accommodation request outright, Mercy Health should have followed up with him if it had questions,” said Dale Price, a senior trial attorney in the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s Detroit field office. “If it had questions, Mercy Health could have spoken with this individual before making a decision to determine the contours of his religious beliefs, rather than prematurely determining that his beliefs were not genuine.”

Because of the hospital system’s actions, the applicant suffered “emotional pain, distress … loss of enjoyment of life and humiliation,” according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit is seeking damages of an amount to be determined at trial but including, back pay, front pay, instatement to an appropriate position, job search expenses, loss of benefits and more.

Grand Rapids is about 65 miles northwest of Lansing.

Trinity Health, which is a Catholic healthcare system, announced in July 2021 that all employees would be required to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

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