September 6, 2022 – NorthShore Agrees to $10.3M Settlement of Vaccine Mandate Lawsuit
NorthShore has agreed to settle the claims detailed on this page with a more than $10.3 million deal that aims to compensate certain employees who were denied a religious exemption to the healthcare system’s COVID-19 vaccination policy.
The settlement, which received preliminary approval on August 5, 2022, will cover all NorthShore team members who, between July 1, 2021 and January 1, 2022, submitted a request for religious exemption or accommodation from NorthShore’s policy requiring a COVID-19 vaccination and were denied, and who either received a COVID-19 vaccination to avoid termination or were discharged or resigned based on their refusal to get vaccinated for religious reasons.
It’s estimated that employees who got the vaccine to avoid termination will receive $3,000 each, and those who were terminated as a result of not complying with the policy are estimated to receive $25,000 each.
Those who are covered by the settlement should receive a mailed notice with more information by September 13, 2022. An official settlement website, lc.org/northshore, will also be set up to provide more details and allow people to file claims online.
The deadline for filing a claim is November 18, 2022.
NorthShore employees who were discharged or resigned will also be given an opportunity to apply for re-employment to any open position at NorthShore and, if hired, will retain their seniority held at the time of their separation from the company.
NorthShore has also agreed to revise its vaccine policy to allow religious exemptions and accommodations in accordance with applicable law and will not discriminate or retaliate against workers based on their sincerely held religious beliefs regarding vaccination or their request for exemption or accommodation.
Importantly, NorthShore cannot take adverse action against anyone based on their participation in the settlement.
The healthcare system, despite agreeing to the settlement, has not admitted wrongdoing or liability with regard to the claims detailed on this page.
A final approval hearing has been scheduled for December 19, 2022, and payments for valid claims will not be sent out until after the deal has been approved and any appeals are resolved in favor of the settlement.
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A proposed class action has been filed over the alleged failure of NorthShore University HealthSystem to offer reasonable accommodations to employees who request exemption from the Chicago-area hospital network’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate on religious grounds.
The 65-page case, filed by 14 pseudonymous plaintiffs, contends that NorthShore’s mandate that all employees receive one form of the COVID-19 vaccine before October 31, 2021 or face termination threatens to cause “incalculable and irreparable harm” to employees who decline the vaccine based on sincerely held religious beliefs and have allegedly been denied reasonable accommodations.
The lawsuit alleges NorthShore’s denial of “virtually all” exemption requests made on religious grounds has left employees with a “Hobson’s choice” of either receiving a COVID-19 vaccine “in direct violation” of their conscience and beliefs, or giving up their livelihood. According to the complaint, the plaintiffs are healthcare professionals who object to receiving the COVID-19 vaccines because they were either developed from or tested with aborted fetal cells lines, or for other religious reasons.
The complaint claims that although NorthShore has, after some deliberation with the plaintiffs’ counsel, reversed the denials of all but one of the workers’ exemption requests, “it did so in name only.” According to the suit, NorthShore stated it would consider “an offer of fully remote work” or to provide an opportunity for the plaintiffs to “apply for a fully remote position,” yet has not actually done so.
The case argues that unless the court grants the plaintiffs’ request for a temporary restraining order against what they allege to be their employer’s “discriminatory, unlawful, and unconscionable” refusal to grant their religious accommodation requests, the workers will be subjected to harms that include homelessness, loss of medical care, disruption of their children’s educations, financial ruin and harm to their physical, emotional and mental health.
NorthShore announced on August 16, 2021 a new policy that mandated that its 18,000 employees, contractors and volunteers be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by October 31, 2021 as a condition of employment, the complaint states. The plaintiffs argue that although NorthShore purported to allow employees to request religious exemptions from the policy, this process was “a sham” given the health system has apparently denied all or virtually all exemption requests.
The plaintiffs claim that they have “earnestly, honestly, and in good faith” sought religious exemptions and reasonable accommodations—including alternative protective measures such as face coverings, personal protective equipment, self-monitoring of symptoms and periodic testing—but “have been rejected at every turn.” The suit alleges NorthShore never intended to grant any religious exemption requests, and claims its “sham” exemption process has failed to meet the requirements of federal and state laws that protect individuals’ right to refuse administration of an unwanted medical product for religious reasons.
According to the case, NorthShore’s vaccine mandate went beyond the federal government’s recently announced plans to develop a rule requiring all large employers to mandate vaccination or periodic testing, as well as the Illinois governor’s executive orders requiring healthcare workers to be subject to similar requirements. The suit attests that although federal and state government plans consider testing to be a sufficient alternative to vaccination, NorthShore’s mandate does not provide for such or take into account individuals who have already recovered from COVID-19 and have antibodies or natural immunity.
Moreover, the plaintiffs say many other healthcare systems in Illinois and across the U.S. have offered reasonable accommodations to employees who requested such based on sincerely held religious beliefs, and allowed those workers to remain in their positions “with appropriate precautions in place.”
The plaintiffs allege NorthShore’s apparent refusal to accommodate its employees is fueled by its “animus towards, and discrimination against,” the workers based on their religious beliefs. The healthcare system has not required patients or visitors to be vaccinated against COVID-19 and has granted exemptions to workers who request such for medical reasons, including pregnancy, according to the complaint.
According to the suit, NorthShore informed workers that all religious objections based on “aborted fetal cell lines, stem cells, tissue or derivative materials” would be denied, and required all those who appealed the decision to submit vaccination records dating back to age 18, which the case calls an “impossible” task that renders most appeals futile.
The plaintiffs allege NorthShore has already “started to purge itself of employees with sincere religious objections” by removing them from its November work schedule even while some of the employees’ appeals are still pending.
The lawsuit argues that NorthShore has failed to engage with its workers “in good faith in the interactive process contemplated by” Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, with the exception of one employee whose exemption request, though “basic and significantly shorter and less detailed” than those submitted by the plaintiffs, was supposedly granted.
The plaintiffs look to represent all NorthShore employees who have requested or will request religious exemptions and accommodations from the defendant’s vaccine mandate and whose requests were denied.
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