ASHEVILLE, NC/January 13, 2018 (STL.News) – Mission Hospital, Inc., a North Carolina corporation based in Asheville and the main hospital of Mission Health System, has agreed to pay $89,000 and furnish other relief to settle a religious discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today. The EEOC had charged that Mission Hospital violated federal law when it refused to accommodate and fired employees who declined flu vaccinations based on their religious beliefs.
According to the EEOC’s complaint, Mission Hospital requires employees to receive a flu vaccination annually by a date certain. An employee may request an exemption to the vaccination requirement based on religious beliefs, but the hospital requires that the request be made by September 1, or it is subject to being denied. The EEOC alleged that Christine Bolella, Melody Mitchell and Titus Robinson requested religious exemptions to the vaccination requirement because of their various sincerely held religious beliefs, after the September 1 deadline, and their requests were denied. Mission Hospital subsequently fired all three claimants.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires employers to make a reasonable accommodation for an employee’s sincerely held religious beliefs as long as doing so does not pose an undue hardship on the employer. The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina, Asheville Division (EEOC v. Mission Hospital, Inc., Civil Action No. 1:16-CV-00118) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.
In addition to providing monetary relief to claimants Bolella, Mitchell and Robinson, Mission Hospital entered into a two-year consent decree which requires it to, among other things, revise its immunization policy to permit employees to request an exemption during the same period in which flu vaccines are to be received. Mission Hospital must also conduct annual training for supervisors and managers on Title VII and an employer’s obligations with respect to religious accommodations; post an employee notice about the lawsuit; and provide periodic reports to the EEOC concerning requests for religious exemption from the flu vaccination requirement.
“Title VII requires employers to make a real effort to provide reasonable religious accommodations to employees who notify the company that their sincerely held religious beliefs conflict with a company’s employment policy,” said Lynette A. Barnes, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Charlotte District Office. “As a result of this lawsuit, Mission now has practices in place to better ensure that this happens.”