Atlanta children's hospital sued for religious discrimination over flu shot exemption

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has sued Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, alleging the pediatric health system illegally fired a maintenance assistant for requesting a religious exemption to its flu vaccination policy.

The EEOC filed the lawsuit Dec. 16 in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, Atlanta division.

According to the EEOC, Children's Healthcare of Atlanta denied the employee's religious exemption and fired him in 2019, after previously granting the employee such an exemption in 2017 and 2018.

The federal agency said in a news release that this occurred even though the maintenance assistant had extremely limited interaction with the public and staff. It contends the health system violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

"It would not have been an undue burden for CHOA to continue accommodating its employee as it had in 2017 and 2018," Marcus Keegan, regional attorney for the EEOC's Atlanta district office, said in the agency's release. "Instead, CHOA inexplicably changed its stance on flu vaccination exemptions for this maintenance employee in 2019 and failed to consider any meaningful reasonable accommodations for his sincerely held religious beliefs."

The health system shared the following response with Becker's: "Children's Healthcare of Atlanta is an equal opportunity employer, committed to diversity and inclusion, and does not discriminate on the basis of any protected category, including religion.  At Children's, the safety of our patients and our staff is our utmost priority. To help protect patients and staff against acquiring or transmitting the seasonal flu, staff are required to receive the annual flu vaccination. The Children's flu exemption committee reviews vaccine exemption requests. Following an increase in flu-related deaths among kids in 2019, we modified our vaccination exemption practices related to staff who are regularly exposed to patients to align with CDC recommendations and to further protect our most vulnerable patients."

The EEOC seeks injunctive relief, along with back pay, front pay, compensatory damages and punitive damages for the worker.

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