Unvaccinated health system workers lose bid to keep jobs

A judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by three unvaccinated Winchester (Va.) Medical Center workers who sought to stay employed, according to The Northern Virginia Daily.

Registered nurses Rebecca Ashworth and Kayla Cox and certified nursing assistant Lori Swartz filed the lawsuit Sept. 20 against Valley Health, which includes the medical center. 

In the lawsuit, filed one day before they faced termination, the workers alleged they were discriminated against as part of Valley Health's exemption process.

"Plaintiffs are among the collection of employees whose religious beliefs Valley Health has deemed to be less acceptable than the religious beliefs of other employees," attorney E. Scott Lloyd, who represented the workers, argued, according to The Northern Virginia Daily. "VHS has set up a process for its religious exemptions that could not conduct a meaningful analysis of its [employees'] religious beliefs."

Judge William Warner Eldridge IV in Winchester Circuit Court dismissed the lawsuit Sept. 21. He agreed with the health system's argument that the workers could not sue under the Virginia Human Rights Act because they did not have authorization from the Virginia Attorney General's Office of Civil Rights, according to The Northern Virginia Daily.

Valley Health announced its vaccination mandate in July. The mandate required the health system's 6,300 staff to get vaccinated — or obtain a religious or medical exemption — by Sept. 7.

"Our vaccination standard is our duty as a healthcare system and our moral responsibility as professionals who prioritize patient, visitor, community and workforce safety in the midst of a pandemic," Valley Health President and CEO Mark Nantz said when the mandate was announced.

Valley Health told Becker's that staff vaccination increased over the summer and reached 97 percent, with 5 percent of the health system's staff granted a medical or religious exemption. 

Employees without a medical or religious exemption had until midnight Sept. 21 to get vaccinated against COVID-19 or be terminated. Seventy-two unvaccinated workers were terminated, including the three workers who filed the lawsuit, according to Valley Health.

"We committed to protect the health of all patients and are very pleased that nearly all of our team members chose to be vaccinated," said Mr. Nantz. "We are pleased the court dismissed the complaint, and recognized our right to protect our patients and other staff from becoming infected by a healthcare worker."


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