A US District Court judge dismissed seven out of the nine recent workplace discrimination complaints raised against a major skilled nursing provider by former employees. 

The Friday decision from Myong Joun of the US District Court for the District of Massachusetts outlined the case brought against Life Care Centers of America, operator of more than 200 facilities nationally. Joun ultimately agreed with most of Life Care’s arguments to dismiss, though he did leave two plaintiffs’ employment discrimination charges open.

As the fallout of COVID-era legal complaints continues, the outcome of this case so far offers hope to providers forced to navigate the murky waters of providing care during the peak of the pandemic.

The nine former Life Care employees brought a complaint against the provider in April 2023, alleging their constitutional and state rights had been violated and that they had been the victims of employment discrimination and assault when their application for religious exemptions to a mandatory COVID vaccine policy were denied. After refusing the vaccine, the plaintiffs were fired in October 2021.

Joun threw out most of these complaints, denying that the plaintiffs had provided any evidence of real physical assault and pointing out that private entities like Life Care are not responsible for upholding constitutional protections unless operating as a state actor.

Some complaints allowed to continue

Two plaintiffs’ employment discrimination complaints were allowed to move forward, however. The judge noted that only these two plaintiffs had adequately stated a sincere religious belief that conflicted with Life Care’s vaccine mandate policy.  

“Ms. Gillen-Brown has indicated that, due to her religious beliefs, she has never taken vaccines in her adult life, and Mr. Leaver alleged his religious beliefs prevented him from taking vaccines generally,” Joun explained. “The amended complaint also plausibly alleges that religious exemptions were never granted and that there was never any serious determination by Life Center as to whether having unvaccinated employees would cause it undue hardship.”

With the outcome of these two complaints pending, Life Care did not respond to a McKnight’s request for comment by publication deadline Tuesday.

Life Care also was caught up in perhaps the most notable previous COVID lawsuit, which involved its Kirkland, WA, building, the site of the first known massive outbreak of COVID-19 in the US. Jurors decisively returned a not-guilty verdict in May 2023 in that wrongful death case.