DOJ sues Wisconsin nursing home over mandatory flu shot policy

The Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against Ozaukee County, Wis., March 6, alleging county-owned Cedarburg, Wis.-based Lasata Care Center discriminated against a former nursing assistant's religious objections to receiving a flu vaccine.

The suit claims Barnell Williams, a former nursing assistant at the care center, requested exemption from the center's vaccination requirement due to her "sincerely held religious belief that Bible-based scriptures prohibited flu shots," according to a statement from the department obtained by CNBC.

The center allows employees to opt out of receiving the vaccine due to religious beliefs only if they provide a written statement from their clergy leader agreeing to the request. Since Ms. Williams did not belong to a church with a clergy member and could not obtain this written statement, she was denied exemption, according to the suit.

Ms. Williams opted to receive the flu shot after the nursing home allegedly told her refusing the vaccination would result in her termination, the suit claims. However, the nursing home's vaccination policy labeled this termination as a "voluntary resignation," since employees refused the flu shot and did not achieve an exemption, according to the lawsuit.

The complaint also alleges Ms. Williams went through "severe emotional distress," experienced sleep problems, anxiety and a "fear of 'going to Hell.'"

The DOJ is arguing the requirement to receive a statement from a clergy member violates the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which protects employees against employer discrimination based on race, gender and religion.

The plaintiff is seeking compensatory damages for Ms. Williams, "in addition to injunctive and other appropriate relief."

An administrator at the center did not immediately respond to CNBC's request for comment on the suit.

Editor's note: Becker's Hospital Review reached out to Lasata Care Center for comment and will update the article as more information becomes available.

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