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NorthShore workers sue hospital system, citing religious objections to COVID-19 vaccine mandate

Chicago Tribune logo Chicago Tribune 10/27/2021 Lisa Schencker, Chicago Tribune

Fourteen employees of NorthShore University HealthSystem are suing the hospital system, alleging that NorthShore won’t let them keep their jobs because of their religious objections to getting COVID-19 vaccines.

Liberty Counsel, which describes itself as a Christian ministry that advocates for religious freedom, is representing the 14 NorthShore employees in the lawsuit, which it filed on Monday in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. The lawsuit seeks class-action status.

The lawsuit alleges that NorthShore is refusing to grant the employees true exemptions from the vaccine mandate, despite their religious beliefs. All of the employees are named anonymously in the lawsuit as Jane Does, and include nurses, a pharmacy technician and a senior application analyst.

Some of them don’t want to get vaccinated because of the vaccines’ links to aborted fetuses, according to the complaint.

None of the three COVID-19 vaccines in the U.S. contains fetal cells. But cell lines derived from two abortions, performed decades ago, were used in the testing or development of the vaccines, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. Other religious authorities, including the Vatican, have deemed the use of the vaccines morally acceptable.

The employees are seeking a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction to keep NorthShore from taking action against them. NorthShore, which has six hospitals, has set a deadline of Oct. 31 for all of its employees to be vaccinated.

“Plaintiffs have sincerely held religious beliefs that they are being guided and instructed by the Holy Spirit not to accept any of the three currently available COVID-19 vaccines and that it would be a sin against God to do so,” according to the complaint. “Plaintiffs have shared these religious beliefs, and others, with NorthShore, and have asked NorthShore for exemption and reasonable accommodation for these beliefs, but NorthShore has unlawfully and callously refused.”

Video: Health Care Workers Sue NorthShore, Citing Religious Exemptions To COVID-19 Vaccine (CBS Chicago)


NorthShore noted in a statement that the vast majority of its 17,000 workers have been vaccinated.

NorthShore understands “that getting vaccinated may be a difficult decision for some of our team members,” NorthShore said in the statement. “We value their committed service and respect their beliefs. However, COVID-19 has presented unique challenges that continue to threaten our communities and therefore we must prioritize the safety of our patients and team members in support of our broader mission.”

Under Equal Employment Opportunity Commission guidelines, employees can ask to be exempted from vaccination requirements because of sincerely held religious beliefs or because of disabilities. But employers don’t have to grant those exemptions if an unvaccinated person would pose a direct threat to others in the workplace, or if accommodating him or her would be an undue burden.

The 14 workers say in the lawsuit that they are willing to be regularly tested for COVID-19, wear masks and report if they’re having symptoms, rather than be vaccinated.

They allege that NorthShore first denied their applications for religious exemptions and said it would deny any exemptions based on “aborted fetal cell lines.” NorthShore then, later, said it would grant many of the exemptions but only allow those seeking them to work remotely, the lawsuit alleges.

NorthShore said Monday that it “considered each request based on multiple criteria, including the totality of information submitted, safety considerations and current conditions. As such, we’ve had to and will continue to evolve our approach and response in fighting this pandemic while prioritizing employee and patient safety first and foremost.”

In Illinois, all health care workers are required to be vaccinated or face weekly COVID-19 testing. Like NorthShore, many Chicago area hospital systems have set stricter rules than that state mandate, requiring all of their workers to be vaccinated by various deadlines, or get approved exemptions, or potentially lose their jobs.

The Liberty Counsel has filed similar litigation in other areas of the country in recent months, and also sent a demand letter to Southern Illinois Healthcare in September on behalf of seven employees who it alleged were unlawfully denied religious exemptions from that system’s mandate.


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