On December 19th, a judge in the U.S. gave the green light to a multi-million dollar settlement for employees who were terminated by an Illinois healthcare organization for their refusal to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.
As part of the $10.3 million settlement, approximately 500 workers who were either fired or denied exemption requests and subsequently received the COVID-19 vaccine will receive compensation. This settlement was initially announced in July.
According to lawyers from Liberty Counsel and NorthShore University Healthsystem, U.S. District Judge John Kness, who was appointed by Trump, verbally approved the settlement in the workers’ lawsuit during a hearing. Kness is expected to issue a written judgment within the next week.
After Kness approved it, NorthShore sent a brief statement to The Epoch Times saying, “We are happy that the Court has approved a resolution that supports this issue, and we continue to give importance to the health and safety of our patients and team members.”
According to a statement from Harry Mihet, who is the vice president of legal affairs for Liberty Counsel, the group is pleased to have received the final approval from the court for the classwide settlement. This settlement is for health care workers who were denied religious exemptions from the COVID vaccine mandate and had faced unlawful discrimination.
He stated that this case should establish a standard for other employers who have broken the law by refusing religious exemptions for their staff.
The legal group Liberty Counsel, which handles cases involving allegations of religious discrimination, was providing legal representation for the 13 plaintiffs mentioned in the case.
The group managed to obtain class certification for workers who were denied religious exemptions. Initially, it was thought that the group would consist of 499 former and current workers, but the number increased to at least 519 after the preliminary settlement agreement.
By Dec. 12, 493 individuals who qualify as class members had submitted claims for a portion of the settlement. If an individual was terminated, they are eligible to receive $24,225, while those who stayed at the company can receive $3,725.
The plaintiffs who have been named will receive an additional sum of $20,000.
According to a recent filing, the plaintiffs involved in a sensitive case related to personal health choices and religious beliefs will receive compensation referred to as service awards. These payments are for their assistance in advising on court filings, gathering documents, and serving as lead plaintiffs even when there was uncertainty about the need to disclose their identities to the public.
Although three workers expressed their disapproval of the settlement, both sides encouraged the judge to ignore their objections. The workers’ dissent primarily stemmed from their belief that they were owed payment after their dismissal. Marzena Novak was one of the objectors and claimed that her actual losses totaled approximately $140,000 from losing her job and wages.
Novak wrote that although the estimated $25,000 would be helpful and appreciated, it does not fully compensate for the actual losses experienced by the individuals who were treated poorly.
In 2021, NorthShore implemented a vaccine mandate for its employees, following the trend of many healthcare systems. They provided a form for workers to request a religious exemption, which required them to briefly explain their objection to the vaccination based on a sincerely held religious principle or practice. NorthShore advised applicants not to provide lengthy answers.
According to the plaintiffs’ filings, NorthShore initially approved some exemption requests, but later reversed their decision and denied most, if not all, of them. Officials stated that the employees did not meet the standard for religious exemptions.
Employees who wished to request a review were instructed to submit an appeal containing their vaccination records starting from when they were 18 years old.
According to NorthShore, if a religious objection is raised due to the use of “aborted fetal cell lines, stem cells, tissue, or derivative materials” in vaccines, the objection will be denied because those products are not used in the vaccines administered by NorthShore. It is important to note that all COVID-19 vaccines available in the United States have connections to aborted fetal cell lines.
At one point, one of the plaintiffs said, her manager said that “we are not approving anyone” for exemptions, although at least several were approved.
NorthShore denied religious exemption requests from Plaintiffs in a mass manner, providing only copy-paste responses that indicated a lack of ‘evidence-based criteria’ without any further explanation. This failure to engage with Plaintiffs and employees who had religious objections prevented NorthShore from considering appropriate accommodations. Both Plaintiffs and NorthShore’s employees received blanket denials with no individual consideration or accommodation.
According to the plaintiffs, the treatment they received was in violation of the Civil Rights Act, which mandates that employers treat their workers equally. Additionally, they claim that the Illinois Health Care Right of Conscience Act, which prohibits discrimination based on an individual’s “right of conscience,” was also violated. NorthShore has consistently denied any wrongdoing.
The system claimed that it would be an unreasonable difficulty to permit NorthShore’s unvaccinated staff to work. It further mentioned that it denied several exemption requests at first, but later reconsidered some of them when they were based on sincerely held religious beliefs and chose not to contest those requests on appeal.