IL Hospital Unlawfully Discriminates Against Employees Over Shot Mandate

Nov 12, 2021

CHICAGO, IL – Liberty Counsel filed a supplemental brief today on behalf of 14 health care workers asking the federal District Court of Illinois to grant a preliminary injunction against NorthShore University HealthSystem for unlawfully discriminating against and denying religious exemptions from the COVID shot mandate. The preliminary injunction hearing is scheduled for Tuesday, November 16, at which Liberty Counsel will seek protection for all NorthShore employees for the duration of the lawsuit. 

On November 1, Judge John F. Kness issued a temporary restraining order against NorthShore on behalf of Liberty Counsel’s plaintiffs. The court said they are likely to prevail on Title VII and the Illinois Health Care Right of Conscience Act. Liberty Counsel later filed a brief asking the court to conditionally certify the entire class of health care workers and to also grant them emergency relief. 

NorthShore has no justification for treating employees with sincerely held religious beliefs against the COVID shot any different than other employees. Even though NorthShore officials claim that employees with religious exemptions are too “dangerous” to accommodate and must be expelled from its facilities, they cannot prove this assertion. 

In fact, Chief Medical Officer Dr. Lakshmi Halasyamani, has stated, “So, basically, you really can’t change your behavior after you get vaccinated. You getting vaccinated protects you. … We don’t actually know whether you getting the vaccine keeps you from inadvertently transmitting COVID. It is really important that, even after vaccination, you have to wear a mask, socially distance, wash your hands, don’t attend large gatherings. So, our best protection against the variants are the safety practices. So, really, what you can do is breathe a huge sigh of relief after you get the vaccine, because you’re not gonna get sick from it—very unlikely, extremely unlikely. Whether you can give it to others—don’t know yet, and that’s what we have to wait and see. So, we have to follow the science.” 

Ironically, Halasyamani also admitted that “Our goal is to have at least 85 percent of our team members vaccinated.”

On July 1, before it announced its “mandatory vaccination policy,” NorthShore assured its employees that “we follow the guidance provided by the CDC and State and County Public Health departments,” and that “processes for medical and religious accommodation requests will be in place for team members with special circumstances.” On September 1, after it announced its “mandatory vaccination policy” and the October 31 deadline for full vaccination, NorthShore assured its employees that, “after October 31,” “individuals who have an approved exemption” will be “eligible for ongoing weekly COVID-19 testing” as an accommodation, pursuant to the Governor’s Executive Order No. 87 that mandated either vaccination or weekly testing for healthcare workers. Then on September 16, NorthShore told its employees “without an authorized exemption” they would have until October 31 to be fully vaccinated and would have to test weekly until then. At the same time, NorthShore again assured its employees “with approved exemptions” that they would be allowed to “routinely test indefinitely” after October 31, in lieu of vaccination. On September 17, NorthShore told its employees “who have approved exemptions for the current year of 2021-2022” that “after October 31,” they will be “eligible for ongoing weekly COVID-19 testing” instead of vaccinating. 

However, NorthShore previously granted exemptions for some employees but then denied them in mid-September. Those denials were either without explanation or because the requests failed to meet some so-called “evidence-based criteria” that NorthShore never provided the employees in advance. NorthShore then only gave employees three business days to file an appeal without stating what was missing in the original application. In that appeal, NorthShore also apparently judged the validity of their religious beliefs by requiring them to include their entire vaccination history since the age of eighteen. However, NorthShore never requested employees to provide prior vaccine information in their initial exemption requests. 

After denying these employees, NorthShore also changed its exemption form to include a warning that all religious objections based on “aborted fetal cell lines, stem cells, tissue or derivative materials will result in denials.” NorthShore is falsely deceptive in that form by stating that the COVID-19 injections have no link to aborted fetal cell lines and refuting the religious beliefs of health care workers who object to the undeniable connection of the injections to aborted fetal cell lines. 

Illinois law dictates that employees at NorthShore have the fundamental right to determine what medical care to accept and refuse. In fact, Illinois has a Health Care Right of Conscience Act that provides strong protection to all residents against discrimination based on health care choices. It states: “It shall be unlawful for any person, public or private institution, or public official to discriminate against any person in any manner, including but not limited to, licensing, hiring, promotion, or any other privileges, because of such person's conscientious refusal to receive, obtain, accept or participate in any way in any particular form of health care services contrary to his or her conscience” (emphasis added). 

Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, “Northshore University HealthSystem is unlawfully denying religious exemptions from the COVID shot mandate. Fortunately, Liberty Counsel’s 14 plaintiffs who were threatened to be terminated by NorthShore University HealthSystem for their religious beliefs have now been given emergency relief. Liberty Counsel continues pursuing relief from the mandate for them and the entire class for the duration of the lawsuit. We are confident they will prevail.” 

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