Feds sue provider that suspended employee who declined flu shot due to religious beliefs

A Massachusetts hospital has been hit with a lawsuit from a federal agency after it allegedly suspended and fired an employee who refused a flu vaccination because of her faith.

The suit, filed Thursday by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commision accuses Baystate Medical Center of discriminating against Stephanie Clarke, a former hiring consultant for the hospital, after she declined a flu shot due to her Christian faith. Clarke refused the shot as she rejects all injections and “believes her body is a temple,” the Boston Globe reported.

Clarke reportedly wore a face mask during work — standard policy for those employees who decline the shot — but frequently pulled it aside to talk to job candidates as it interfered with her ability to speak clearly.

The EEOC's lawsuit claims Baystate suspended Clarke without pay in November for not wearing the mask properly, despite the fact that she had no contact with patients. Clarke reportedly asked the hospital to provide her with another accommodation that would not affect her job duties, but was fired and made ineligible for rehire shortly after.  

“Because Clarke's job did not require her to have patient contact, it would not have been an undue hardship for [the hospital] to exempt Clarke from the flu vaccine requirement, or to permit her to remove the mask while speaking,” the EEOC complaint reads.

The EEOC had previously attempted to settle the issue without litigation, the agency said. The new lawsuit seeks back pay, compensatory and punitive damages, and injunctive relief for Clarke.

“Our patients' safety is our highest priority, so we take all reasonable steps to minimize any risk of transmission of infectious illness such as flu,” a spokesman for Baystate said in a statement to the Globe. “That includes a requirement to be vaccinated against flu or wear a mask at all our facilities during flu season.”

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