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U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

1000 Liberty Ave.

Pittsburgh, PA 15222-4004

TEL (410) 395-5902 • TTY (412) 644-2720

FAX (410) 644-2662


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE           Contact:          Debra M. Lawrence, Regional Attorney

Friday, September 23, 2016                                       (410) 209-2734


                                                                                    Lisa H. Hernandez, Senior Trial Attorney

                                                                                    (412) 395-5852


                                                                                    Marcel Baldwin, Outreach & Training Manager

                                                                                    (216) 522-2246




Hospital Refused to Grant Employees Religious Belief-Based Exemptions From Flu Vaccination Requirement and Instead Fired Them, Federal Agency Charges


ERIE, Pa. – Saint Vincent Health Center, which owns and operates Saint Vincent Hospital in Erie, Pa., and other associated facilities, violated federal law when it refused to accommodate the religious beliefs of six employees and instead fired them, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit it announced today.


According to EEOC's lawsuit, in October 2013, Saint Vincent Health Center implemented a mandatory seasonal flu vaccination requirement for its employees unless they were granted an exemption for medical or religious reasons. Under the policy, employees who received an exemption were required to wear a face mask while having patient contact during flu season instead of receiving the vaccination. Employees who refused the vaccine and were not granted an exemption by the Health Center were fired, according to EEOC’s lawsuit.


            In its lawsuit, EEOC alleges that from October 2013 to January 2014, the six employees identified in EEOC’s complaint requested religious exemptions from the health center’s flu vaccination require­ment based on sincerely held religious beliefs, and that the health center denied their requests. When the employees continued to refuse the vaccine based on their religious beliefs, the health center fired them. According to the lawsuit, during this same period, the health center granted 14 vaccination exemption requests based on medical reasons.


Religious discrimination violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. EEOC filed suit (U.S. EEOC v. Saint Vincent Health Center, Civil Action No. 1:16-cv-00234-BR)  in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, Erie Division after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.


“In religious accommodation cases, the standard is not whether company officials agree with the employee's religious beliefs or whether those beliefs are the recognized position or official doctrine of any particular religious organization or group,” said EEOC Philadelphia Regional Attorney Debra M. Lawrence. “Absent proof establishing an undue hardship, federal law requires an employer to provide reasonable accommodations for sincerely held employee religious beliefs, even if some may consider those beliefs idiosyncratic. Title VII reflects our society’s belief that the conscience of the individual should be respected and that employers should avoid forcing workers to choose between keeping their jobs and adhering to their faith.”


EEOC District Director Spencer H. Lewis, Jr. added, “This is a classic example of how an employer could have accommodated an employee's religious beliefs at no cost or disruption, but instead chose the costly route of discrimination.”


The Philadelphia District Office of EEOC oversees Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, West Virginia and parts of New Jersey and Ohio. 


EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the agency is available at its website,