Ascension St. Vincent sued over religious exemption denials for COVID-19 vaccine


INDIANAPOLIS — Ascension St. Vincent is being sued by Indiana workers who claim they were discriminated against when their requests for religious exemptions for the COVID-19 vaccine were denied.

The class action lawsuit by dozens of workers was brought under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin.

The lawsuit claimed Ascension St. Vincent “failed to individually and properly assess each application for religious exemption” and instead “established a coercive process calculated to force healthcare workers and staff to abandon their religious objections to the COVID-19 vaccination and receive the vaccination against their will.”

Ascension St. Vincent’s review process ran many employees to within a week or two of its vaccination deadline before informing them their application for religious exemption had been denied, the lawsuit said.

“In many of these cases, Ascension Health’s sole explanation for its denial of religious exemptions was a single sentence emailed to each requester: Due to the nature of your role, approving this accommodation poses undue hardship to the organization due to increased risk to the workplace and patient safety,” the suit claimed.

The lawsuit also said that unvaccinated workers without religious exemptions were suspended without pay from November 12 to at least December 17 of 2021, when some workers were brought back to work with no restrictions beyond that of vaccinated employees. However, some workers were not brought back at all, and Ascension St. Vincent did not backpay the employees who did return for the weeks they were suspended without pay, the lawsuit claimed.

“Ascension Health violated Title VII by, among other things: failing to provide reasonable accommodations, refusing to follow federal law in assessing religious exemptions, and suspending without pay thousands of employees whose religious convictions would not permit them to receive the COVID-19 vaccines,” the lawsuit read in part.

The workers are asking the federal court to find the hospital network in violation of federal discrimination law, order the hospital network to pay for the time spent on unpaid suspension and financial compensation for alleged harms. 

When asked about the lawsuit, Ascension Health said it couldn’t comment on pending litigation.

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