A group of Illinois health care workers agreed to settle their lawsuit against NorthShore University HealthSystem. Represented by Liberty Counsel, the plaintiffs filed a class-action lawsuit in federal court last fall on behalf of themselves and other NorthShore employees who were denied religious exemptions to the company’s Covid-19 vaccine mandate.
If the court approves the proposed settlement, NorthShore has agreed to change how it processes religious accommodation requests to comply with the law and make employees who were terminated for refusing the shot after being denied religious exemptions eligible for rehire. NorthShore would also pay over $10 million to compensate workers who were denied religious exemptions or forced to get the jab to retain their jobs and to cover legal costs.
“The policy change and substantial monetary relief required by the settlement will bring a strong measure of justice to NorthShore’s employees who were callously forced to choose between their conscience and their jobs,” said Horatio Mihet, Liberty Counsel’s vice president of legal affairs, chief litigation counsel, and the lead attorney for the plaintiffs, in a press release.
The lawsuit alleged that NorthShore violated Title VII by failing to provide accommodations for workers’ sincerely held religious beliefs. According to the lawsuit, workers with religious objections were not offered regular Covid-19 testing or other measures as an alternative to the shot, even though the plaintiffs would have been willing to comply with such measures.
The lawsuit also said the vaccine mandate violated federal law about vaccines approved for emergency use. “As a condition of receiving authorization for Emergency Use, all individuals to whom the product may be administered are given the right to accept or refuse administration of the product,” the lawsuit said.
Since it is a class-action lawsuit, workers besides the 13 named plaintiffs who were also denied religious exemptions will be eligible for compensation from the settlement fund. NorthShore estimates 523 current and former employees would qualify.
“Let this case be a warning to employers that violated Title VII,” said Mat Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, in the press release. “It is especially significant and gratifying that this first classwide COVID settlement protects health care workers. Health care workers are heroes who daily give their lives to protect and treat their patients. They are needed now more than ever.”