Fourteen employees of NorthShore University HealthSystem filed a lawsuit against the Illinois-based health care provider, arguing that the facility wouldn’t allow them to keep their jobs due to religious objections to COVID-19 vaccines.
Liberty Counsel, which is representing the 14 health care workers, said in an emailed statement to The Epoch Times on Monday that it filed a class-action lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.
The “plaintiffs have shared these religious beliefs, and others, with NorthShore, and have asked NorthShore for exemption and reasonable accommodation for these beliefs, but NorthShore has unlawfully and callously refused,” the complaint (pdf) said.
The lawsuit is urging the district court to grant a temporary injunction against the mandate before Oct. 31, a day before the deadline NorthShore set to remove the plaintiffs and other employees with objections.
“As of last Friday,” said Liberty Counsel’s statement, “NorthShore had already started purging those employees with sincere religious objections to its ‘Mandatory COVID-19 Vaccination Policy,'” by removing many of those employees from the November work schedule, including those whose appeals were still pending.”
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission guidelines say that employees can ask to be exempted from vaccine requirements due to religious or medical reasons. Employers do not necessarily have to grant the exemptions under certain circumstances, the agency’s guidance adds.
NorthShore, which has six hospitals, told The Epoch Times on Tuesday that most of its employees have received the vaccine.
The hospital system said it understands “that getting vaccinated may be a difficult decision for some of our team members,” according to its statement. “We value their committed service and respect their beliefs.”
COVID-19, however, has presented the hospital with “unique challenges that continue to threaten our communities,” NorthShore added. “Therefore we must prioritize the safety of our patients and team members in support of our broader mission,” it said.
But Liberty Counsel’s lawsuit asserted that NorthShore previously provided exemptions to some workers but later denied them in September. The company’s denials were without explanation or said the requests for exemptions failed to meet its criteria.
“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,” the organization said in a statement
In response to Liberty Counsel’s claim, NorthShore told local media it had “considered each request based on multiple criteria” and looked at the information submitted, safety issues, and “current conditions.”