UVA Wrongfully Fired Employee for Refusing COVID Shot

Jul 28, 2023

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA – The Sixteenth Judicial Court in Virginia ruled yesterday that the University of Virginia Health System (UVA) wrongfully denied an employee’s religious exemption and unlawfully fired her for not taking the COVID-19 shot. The Court granted the employee injunctive relief by reversing the UVA’s firing decision and awarding monetary damages to the employee. 

In McCoy v. Rector & Visitors UVA/UVA Health System, Virginia attorneys Rick Boyer, David Browne, Christopher M. Collins, Bret G. Daniel, and Patrick M. McSweeney represented plaintiff Kaycee McCoy in the case. McCoy had worked as a highly specialized cytotechnologist at UVA for nearly 10 years. In September 2021, she requested a religious exemption to the university’s COVID-19 shot mandate since the university’s vaccination policy allowed for exemptions for medical or religious reasons. A committee of UVA’s human resources personnel reviewed McCoy’s exemption request to determine the sincerity of her religious beliefs, but ultimately denied her exemption without explanation and did not allow her to appeal the decision. UVA fired McCoy in November 2021 after she did not comply with the university’s mandate according to her religious beliefs.  

In granting the injunction, District Court Judge Claude V. Worrell, II, explained that Virigina courts usually leave the hiring and firing decisions of organizations alone unless a decision is “arbitrary and capricious.” Case law defines those terms as decisions made “without a determining principle.” Essentially, Judge Worrell examined whether the university stepped legally out of bounds by evaluating the sincerity of McCoy’s religious beliefs, and whether they arbitrarily chose to fire her without a clear underlying principle.

Judge Worrell wrote in his opinion, “…here, we have essentially a religious test that is being applied to determine sincerity of belief, and that is violative of the separation of church and state….” 

Judge Worrell noted the realm of religion is beyond the expertise of any government body, and that since McCoy had “met all the necessary requirements to show she had sincerely held religious belief that allowed her to seek an exemption” under UVA policy, he ruled UVA denied her exemption and fired her “in an arbitrary and capricious manner.” 

The ruling prevents UVA from discriminating against McCoy for the COVID shot as long as she continues to be eligible for a religious exemption. The Court ordered UVA to pay damages in the amount of McCoy’s salary from the date of her wrongful firing. 

In January 2022, UVA rescinded its COVID shot mandate after Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin issued an executive order removing the mandate for state employees. 

Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, “This is an important victory for religious liberty and for those who have not caved into these unlawful shot mandates. Forcing an employee to choose between their sincerely held religious beliefs and their job is highly unconstitutional. Applying for a religious exemption is a legal right and cannot be arbitrarily denied.” 

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