UK employee was ‘forced to retire’ after she didn’t get COVID vaccine. Now she’s suing.

Charles Bertram/cbertram@herald-leader.com

A former University of Kentucky employee has filed a federal civil suit in the United States District Court against the University of Kentucky Board of Trustees, saying the board violated her rights after she didn’t get a COVID-19 vaccine.

Laurie Ann DeVore stated in the suit filed Friday that the board committed religious discrimination, failure to accommodate, after she was forced to retire in January 2022 when she did not receive a vaccine and was denied a religious exemption.

According to court documents, DeVore has worked with the university since April 1999. Since 2014, her job title was Department Academic Administration, Sr. with the Office for Policy Studies on Violence Against Women. When the pandemic began, she and other employees were advised to work from home.

DeVore returned to work in-person as instructed on Aug. 2, 2021, and in September, was advised of a new policy at the university which required employees working on campus who had not received the vaccine to undergo mandatory weekly testing, according to court documents.

“Due to deeply held religious beliefs, the plaintiff had not gotten the Covid vaccine,” the suit says. “Also due to her deeply held religious beliefs, (DeVore) objected to mandatory Covid testing.”

DeVore submitted a request for religious exemption Oct. 1, 2021. That night, she received an email from UK’s general counsel that her request for exemption from mandatory testing was denied, court documents state.

“(UK) did not offer, recommend, or otherwise reference any possibility of (DeVore) receiving an accommodation,” court documents state.

The university again denied an additional request from DeVore on Oct. 15. She then submitted a request for an accommodation and proposed she should be allowed to work from home as she had done for the past 17 months. The documents stated this would allow her to continue to do her job without requiring her to violate her religious beliefs.

She was denied by the university again on Nov. 2. UK stated she needed to be “on site to assist students and staff members who may visit the office.” Court documents state UK did not propose an alternative accommodation, and insisted the plaintiff either get the vaccine or submit to the mandatory testing.

“On or about December 4, 2021, because (DeVore’s) religious convictions prohibited her from getting the Covid vaccine or submitting to weekly testing for four consecutive weeks, (DeVore) was placed on unpaid administrative leave,” court documents state.

A month later in January 2022, DeVore received a correspondence from the university that she would be terminated by Jan. 29, 2022, if she were not in compliance with the mandate.

On Jan. 28, DeVore, “to avoid the impending termination, was compelled to retire,” documents state.

In April, the university ended the requirement that unvaccinated workers undergo weekly testing, according to the document. In May, DeVore filed a Charge of Discrimination with the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights, asserting discrimination based on religion.

“(DeVore) was constructively discharged when she was forced to retire under the threat of termination, because (UK) refused to provide a reasonable accommodation to (UK’s) mandatory testing requirement,” court documents state.

The suit states this discrimination resulted in the loss of income, benefits, emotional distress and mental anxiety -- all of which she is seeking compensation for in the way of actual damages, future lost wages and benefits, punitive damages, attorney fees, and all other relief.

A response has not yet been filed by the University of Kentucky. According to Jay Blanton, UK spokesperson, the university had not yet received the litigation and was unable to comment.