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Appeals Court Restarts Lawsuit Against Mayo Clinic’s Covid Jab Mandate

The ruling opens the door for scores of employees to pursue damages for Mayo’s alleged abuse of religious freedom.


In a significant win for religious freedom and a major setback for Covid poke cops, a U.S. appeals court has resurrected a lawsuit charging the Rochester, Minnesota-based Mayo Clinic with discriminating against workers who resisted strict Covid-19 vaccine mandates on religious grounds. 

The court’s ruling opens the door for scores of employees to seek damages for Mayo’s alleged abuse of equal employment laws, and it comes thanks in part to a federal agency in a vax-happy Biden administration that has pushed Covid shot mandates in the workplace. 

Officials with the health system told the National Desk that Mayo Clinic will “vigorously” defend itself.

‘Sincerely Held Religious Beliefs’

On Friday, the U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which had asked the court to revisit the claims of former employees of the renowned clinic. Shelly Kiel and Kenneth Ringhofer were among five medical staff members who filed the lawsuit after being fired in 2022. They claim the hospital’s requirement forcing employees to either get the jab or undergo routine Covid testing violated their religious rights and the sanctity of their bodies. 

“Plaintiffs identify as Christians and allege they refused the vaccine based on their sincerely held religious beliefs,” the lawsuit states. 

The complaint alleges the health care provider, like many others mandating the vaccine, violated the employees’ rights under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Minnesota’s anti-discrimination law. Both are supposed to protect employees and job applicants from being discriminated against based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. 

But U.S. District Judge John Tunheim dismissed the complaint, asserting the fired employees had not shown that the Covid poke and testing requirements as a condition of employment specifically violated their rights. Two of the plaintiffs, the judge ruled, had not exhausted their administrative remedies under Title VII. 

In reversing the decision, the appellate court found that Tunheim, appointed to the Minnesota federal court by President Bill Clinton, erred in interpreting state and federal law, including the judge’s determination that the plaintiffs failed in pleading religious beliefs that conflict with Mayo’s Covid-19 policies. 

Kiel, for instance, argued that her “religious beliefs prevent her from putting into her body the Covid-19 vaccines … because they were all produced with or tested with cells from aborted human babies. Receiving the vaccine would make her a participant in the abortion that killed the unborn baby.” Pfizer and Moderna did use fetal tissue stemming from abortions in the early development of the vaccines, although the pharmaceutical companies claim the abortions happened decades ago and the cells used are generations removed.

Ringhofer’s complaint states that “his body is a Temple to the Holy Spirit and [he] is strongly against abortion. Plaintiff Ringhofer believes the Vaccine Mandate violates his religious beliefs and conscience to take the Covid-19 vaccine because the vaccines were produced with or tested with fetal cell lines.” The other plaintiffs voiced similar objections. 

The appeals court found that the lower court judge did not “consider the complaint as a whole.” 

“As EEOC Guidance says, ‘overlap between a religious and political view does not place it outside the scope of Title VII’s religious protections, as long as the view is part of a comprehensive religious belief system,” the appeals court ruling states. While Mayo insisted that many Christians have elected to get the shot, that doesn’t negate the plaintiffs’ beliefs. 

In its statement, Mayo Clinic said it established its vaccination program to protect the health and safety of staff, patients, and communities. 

“The program included an exemption to accommodate sincerely held religious beliefs, and Mayo granted the majority of requests for religious exemptions,” the hospital system with some 76,000 employees said. In its decision, the Court of Appeals did not criticize Mayo’s vaccination program or its employment actions; rather, the court merely ruled that the plaintiffs may resume their legal claims.”

‘Engaging in Their Own Lawfare’

The ruling paves the way for more than 100 Mayo Clinic workers and other affected employees to pursue monetary damages in U.S. District Court, according to attorneys for the plaintiffs. Depending on the outcome of the restarted lawsuit, untold numbers of fired employees forced to choose between their jobs and their conscience could seek legal relief, attorneys said. 

“We are elated at the 8th Circuit’s decision to follow clearly-established law relating to Title VII (federal law) and the Minnesota Human Rights Act,” Greg Erickson, attorney for Minneapolis-based Mohrman, Kaardal & Erickson P.A., said in a statement. “We are also very appreciative of the support of the federal agency called the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in defending the religious liberties of our clients by participating in this successful appeal.” 

Erick Kaardal, another attorney for the plaintiffs, said employers who demanded their workers get the Covid shot or be penalized — even if they had religious objections — were “engaging in their own lawfare against religious-objecting employees.” The discrimination, he said, was so bad in the case of Mayo Clinic that even the far-left Biden administration’s EEOC was forced to step in to help correct the district court’s erroneous dismissal. 

President Joe Biden in September 2021 announced a federal rule mandating that employers with a workforce of 100 or more employees require workers to get the shot or get tested weekly for the virus. The U.S. Supreme Court in January 2022 stopped the administration from enforcing the edict while giving a pass to health care organizations that take federal health insurance payments. Some 17 million health care workers were affected, ABC News reported. The high court also ordered a federal district court in Texas to nix its preliminary injunction against the vax mandate for federal employees. 

But the policies must abide by civil rights protections, including religious objections. 

As Kaardal noted, oftentimes physicians got away with foregoing the vaccine while nursing and support staff had to face the consequences. 

“You think about these politically correct employers taking it out on religious objectors, it’s really sad,” Kaardal told me Monday afternoon on the “Simon Conway Show,” on NewsRadio 1040 WHO in Des Moines. “Christians, Muslims, Jewish people, all people of faith should be able to raise religious objections in the workplace. There could have been accommodations worked out.” 

Listen to the full interview with Erick Kaardal.

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