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Health system will pay $50K to settle religious bias charge over denied flu shot exemption

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Trinity Health Grand Rapids, a hospital and health system based in Michigan, will pay $50,000 to settle a lawsuit alleging it failed to properly consider an employee’s request for an exemption from its flu shot policy.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed suit against the employer last April, accusing it of religious discrimination, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. 

Trinity’s influenza policy, which the EEOC said has been discontinued, required employees to get a flu shot annually unless they received an exemption, according to the agency. After receiving a conditional offer of employment, the plaintiff filed an exemption request based on his religious beliefs, which Trinity ultimately deemed “insufficient” and denied, according to EEOC’s complaint. Trinity then rescinded the applicant’s job offer.

As part of the consent decree, the hospital will train human resources and senior leadership team members on Title VII’s religious protections. The applicant will also receive $11,348 in back pay and $38,651 in noneconomic damages.

“Employees should not have to check their religious beliefs at the workplace door,” Dale Price, an EEOC trial attorney, said in the agency’s release. “The applicant’s objection, which was based on his sincere religious beliefs, could have been easily accommodated.” 

In initially announcing the lawsuit, Price pointed out that the health system should have worked with the applicant if it had questions about his accommodation request, rather than rejecting it outright. 

The sincerity of religious beliefs emerged as a renewed source of discussion for businesses and employment law attorneys in the months after the COVID-19 vaccine became available and employers mandated shots for employees. Unless they have evidence otherwise, employers should generally take applicants and workers at their word, the EEOC has advised.

Trinity Health did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

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