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District Court Dismisses Healthcare Workers’ Suit Over Vaccine

A Pennsylvania district court judge dismissed a class action lawsuit by 100 Geisinger Healthcare workers over its COVID policy. In August 2021, Geisinger required its employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19, absent a religious or medical exemption. These employees requested a religious exemption, which the company conditionally approved. However, Geisinger informed these employees they needed to comply with its twice-weekly testing requirement. They would also need to quarantine for 14 days following exposure to someone with COVID. The lead plaintiff in the case, Christine Finkbeiner, asked to be excused from the testing requirements. She asserted the testing was unnecessary because she worked from home, and she said testing was a "bad choice for my health and body." She believes "there are chemicals/carcinogens associated with the swab and testing material." Geisinger denied Finkbeiner's request and considered her refusal to comply a voluntary resignation. She and others sued for religious discrimination in violation of Title VII.

The federal district court judge rejected Finkbeiner's assertion that her employer discriminated against her based on her religion. The court said Finkbeiner's belief that the COVID-19 vaccines are harmful and unnecessary does not reflect "sincere religious opposition." Instead, the plaintiff's statements reflect that "her opposition stems from her medical beliefs." The court further noted Finkbeiner’s claim that she has a “God-given right to make [her] own choices” would allow her a “blanket privilege” to avoid all “unwanted obligations.” Finkbeiner needed more than showing a right to autonomy and free will to reflect sincerely held religious beliefs. At the end of its opinion, the court asserted the plaintiff needed a legal basis to support her opposition to her employer's policy. While she cloaked her claims in the language of religious discrimination, Finkbeiner failed to provide legal support.