Federal court upholds St. Elizabeth Healthcare's COVID-19 vaccine mandate

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A federal judge has denied a request by workers at Edgewood, Ky.-based St. Elizabeth Healthcare to prohibit enforcement of the system's COVID-19 vaccine mandate, according to court documents.

U.S. District Judge David Bunning concluded in his ruling Sept. 24 that St. Elizabeth can require employees to be vaccinated as a condition of employment in response to the global pandemic.

"If an employee believes his or her individual liberties are more important than legally permissible conditions on his or her employment, that employee can and should choose to exercise another individual liberty, no less significant — the right to seek other employment," Mr. Bunning wrote.

A group of healthcare workers, some past and others presently employed by St. Elizabeth and its physicians' group, Summit Medical Group, sued Sept. 3 seeking to prohibit St. Elizabeth from enforcing its policy. The policy requires workers to receive a vaccine or submit a request for a medical or religious exemption before Oct. 1. Under the policy, unvaccinated employees who do not have an exemption could face termination.

Workers argued that the vaccination policy infringes on their constitutional rights, and that St. Elizabeth did not approve religious and medical accommodations to the vaccination policy in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, according to court documents.

But in his ruling, Mr. Bunning said the workers "have not established a strong likelihood of success on the merits with respect to their claims under the ADA and Title VII."

Through Sept. 21, St. Elizabeth reported receiving 232 requests for medical exemptions, fully granting 31 requests. It granted 143 deferment requests, denied 34 requests and has 24 requests pending.

As of Sept. 21, St. Elizabeth reported 739 requests for religious exemptions. Of those requests, 425 were granted, 39 were denied and 275 are pending.

Alan Statman, who represented the workers, said the group is considering next steps, according to news station KAKE.

Becker's reached out to St. Elizabeth and will update the story if a comment is received.

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