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A Pennsylvania-based healthcare provider has agreed to hand over $300,000 to settle allegations that it fired employees who requested religious exemptions from the organization’s vaccination policy.

Saint Vincent Health Center in Erie, PA, was sued by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission after six employees claimed they were unfairly terminated because they asked for an exemption from the providers’ mandatory seasonal flu vaccination requirement.

The policy stated that workers who received an exemption for religious or medical reasons could instead wear a facemask while caring for patients during flu season.

The employees who requested the religious exemptions were denied; during that same period, the EEOC’s suit claimed, 14 other workers were granted exemptions for medical reasons. When the six workers continued to refuse the vaccine, they were fired, the EEOC said.

In a statement to
McKnight’s, spokesman Daniel Laurent said Saint Vincent “respectfully” disagrees with the EEOC’s claims, and reached the settlement in order to avoid the costs and burden of further litigation.

“We continue to believe that annual vaccination for influenza among healthcare professionals is in the best interests of our patients and our employees, and we will continue to provide easy access to vaccinations at Saint Vincent and across our organization for the many employees who voluntarily receive them each year,” the statement added.

Saint Vincent agreed to pay damages and back pay to the employees, and reinstate them to their positions, according to the December EEOC settlement. In addition, Saint Vincent must grant religious exemptions to its vaccination policy if it continues to be a condition of employment, unless an exemption “poses an undue hardship on the health center’s operation,” the EEOC said.