Saint Thomas Health to Pay $75,000 to Settle EEOC Religious Discrimination Suit

U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)
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U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)

Hospital Demanded Employee Take Flu Shot Despite His Religious Beliefs, Federal Agency Charged

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Saint Thomas Health (STH), operating Saint Thomas Rutherford Hospital in Murfreesboro, Tenn., will pay $75,000 and furnish other relief to settle a religious discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency announced today.

According to the EEOC's lawsuit, STH required all employees at Saint Thomas Rutherford Hospital to have an annual flu shot, including employees of TouchPoint Support Services. TouchPoint provides food and environmental services at the hospital. Because of his religious beliefs, STH allowed a TouchPoint employee to wear a protective mask instead of having a flu shot in 2013 and 2014. When this employee asked again in 2015 not to have a flu shot, STH denied his request. When this employee refused to have a flu shot, STH told him and TouchPoint he could not work at the hospital. TouchPoint then fired the employee. The Nashville Area Office investigated the charge of discrimination.

Such alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which requires employers to provide a reasonable accommodation for an employee's sincerely held religious beliefs. The EEOC filed suit (Civil Action No. 1:18-cv-00978 in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its voluntary conciliation process. While denying any wrongdoing, STH chose to settle prior to trial.

According to the consent decree, STH will pay $75,000 in compensatory damages to the employee. Addition­ally, STH must modify its accommodation policy to allow an employee to appeal the termination of an accommodation for a sincerely held religious belief. STH will provide annual training on that policy to its human resources employees and members of its flu committee for the next two years.

"We commend St. Thomas Rutherford Hospital for working quickly to resolve this litigation," said Faye A. Williams, regional attorney of the EEOC's Memphis District Office. "This settlement will ensure that employees who seek religious accommodations in the workplace for sincerely held religious beliefs are protected."

Delner Franklin-Thomas, district director of the Memphis Office, which has jurisdiction over Arkansas, Tennessee, and portions of Mississippi, added, "Title VII requires reasonable accommodations for sincerely held religious beliefs. Through this consent decree, we hope other employers learn to protect this right."

According to its website, STH is a family of Middle Tennessee hospitals and physician practices. STH is the leading faith-based health care system in Tennessee and is part of Ascension, the largest non-profit health system in the U.S. and the world's largest Catholic health system.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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