Three San Francisco employees ousted from their jobs after their requests for religious exemptions to the City’s vaccine mandate were denied in an arbitrary and capricious manner, are suing the City for religious discrimination.
The lawsuit, filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, charges violations of the federal Civil Rights Act and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act. It names San Francisco Mayor London Breed and San Francisco Human Resources Director Carol Isen as defendants.
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Last June San Francisco required its entire 35,000 workforce to be vaccinated by November 1, 2021 in order to keep their jobs. There were ostensibly religious exemptions to the policy. But the Associated Press reported on October 14 that out of 800 requests for a religious exemption not a single one was granted.
The stipulated religious exemption sounds like government chicanery to make a draconian policy politically palatable. All three plaintiffs in the lawsuit provided detailed and nuanced reasons why they should be entitled to religious exemptions.
Plaintiff Selina Keene is described in court papers as “a Christian who believes in the sanctity of life” and “is opposed to the vaccines because they were derived from stem cells from aborted fetuses, in direct contradiction to her religious beliefs.”
Keene’s request for a religious exemption was denied without an explanation even though she provided the government a detailed explanation of her religious beliefs. She also claims to have natural immunity having contracted COVID in January 2022.
The second plaintiff, Melody Fountila, is also described as a religious Christian who opposes the vaccine because she believes it was derived from fetal cells.
The third plaintiff, Mark McClure, is, according to the complaint, a “Christian” who “is opposed to taking the vaccine because they are derived from aborted fetal cells in violations of his religious beliefs.”
The lawsuit says that San Francisco “arbitrarily and unreasonably implemented the mandates,” which were really superfluous since unvaccinated employees can “safely perform their job duties while protecting themselves fellow employees and the community they serve through non-pharmaceutical interventions, such as daily health screenings, wearing masks, quarantining, and in some cases, telecommuting to work.”
This failure to make the required “reasonable accommodations” for the employees’ religious beliefs violates Title 7 of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the complaint argues. “Defendants have utterly failed to make reasonable accommodations for the Plaintiffs’ religious accommodation requests. Given that the employees could submit to daily health screenings, wearing masks, quarantining and telecommuting for work, those requests for accommodation would not amount to an undue hardship on the Defendants. Those exact same accommodations were made and worked during the height of the pandemic in 2020 and 2021”–before vaccines were available.
The complaint also says that San Francisco is also violating the California Fair Employment and Housing Acts’ requirements for reasonable accommodations of employee’s religious beliefs. “The Defendants herein are attempting to coerce Plaintiffs into violating their faith by making them choose between their faith and continued employment.”
The lawsuit says that to initially stave off dismissal the plaintiffs went on administrative leave and used “sick time, vacation time and [federal leave] time in order to mitigate their damages.” But now “Plaintiffs are being terminated because they do not want to take a vaccine that violates their protected religious beliefs, and because the Defendants will not admit the efficacy of the prior means of protecting the public and their employees.”
They are seeking unspecified damages and a court order requiring San Francisco to “accept all sincere requests for religious accommodations” and “medical exemptions based on having COVID-19 antibodies acquired as a result of surviving a COVID-19 infection.”
University of Virginia law professor Douglas Laycock, an expert on religious liberty, told the California Globe that he does not think the federal claim is viable because under current jurisprudence the employer can easily justify a refusal to accommodate religious beliefs. “The employer doesn’t have to show much under federal law. An employer need only show that an exemption would impose more than a de minimis [minimal] cost. A single case of Covid can do that through sick pay for days off work or increased insurance costs; an outbreak of Covid in the workforce could impose huge costs.”
Mayor Breed’s press office and lawyers for the plaintiffs did not respond to requests for comment. Contact information for the plaintiffs could not be located online.
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