A federal judge approved a class action settlement of more than $10 million for workers at an Illinois healthcare system whose religious exemptions against taking the COVID vaccine were rejected.
Judge John Kness granted approval on Monday, with the final judgment provided by next week, according to Liberty Counsel.
“After many months and long hours, we are pleased to finally get the court’s final approval of this classwide settlement for these health care workers who were unlawfully discriminated against and denied religious exemptions from the COVID shot mandate,” Liberty Counsel Vice President of Legal Affairs and Chief Litigation Counsel Harry Mihet, whose organization represented the health care workers, said in a statement.
Christmas came early for our NorthShore plaintiffs! Today, the court granted FINAL APPROVAL in the $10.3 MILLION CLASS-ACTION SETTLEMENT for health care workers who were discriminated against and denied religious exemptions from the COVID shot mandate.
— Liberty Counsel (@libertycounsel) December 19, 2022
“This case should set a precedent for other employers who have violated the law by denying religious exemptions for their employees,” he added.
The first-of-its-kind class action settlement against a private employer in the case of Jane Doe 1, et al. v. Northshore University Healthsystem arose after the healthcare system denied hundreds of religious exemption requests for COVID vaccines. NorthShore will pay $10,337,500 to compensate the impacted healthcare employees who were denied exemptions.
The settlement includes various responses based on the treatment of individual employees. Settlement checks to those terminated or resigned because of their religious refusal of the COVID vaccine will receive approximately $24,000 each, according to the settlement.
Employees forced to accept a COVID vaccine against their religious beliefs to keep their jobs will receive approximately $3,700 each.
In addition, staff members terminated because of their religious refusal will be eligible for rehire if they apply within 90 days of the final settlement approved by the court and will retain their previous seniority level. Liberty Counsel noted that many previously terminated employees have already been rehired, and others will continue to be reinstated at NorthShore.
The settlement will also require the health care provider to change its religious accommodation policy to be consistent with the law, offering legal religious accommodations across all its locations.
The lawsuit was filed in October 2021, along with a motion for a temporary restraining order against the Illinois-based company. The effort sought to stop the healthcare provider from firing employees who had requested a religious accommodation policy to the COVID vaccine that was initially scheduled to occur on November 1, 2021.
NorthShore previously granted exemptions for some employees but then rejected them in mid-September of 2021, according to Liberty Counsel. After denying these employees, NorthShore also changed its exemption form to include a warning that all religious objections based on “aborted fetal cell lines, stem cells, tissue or derivative materials will result in denials.”
The lawsuit focused on the state’s Health Care Right of Conscience Act. The policy states, in part, that employees cannot be compelled “to receive, obtain, accept or participate in any way in any particular form of health care services contrary to his or her conscience.”
Judge Kness issued a 27-page decision in November of 2021 that found NorthShore employees who were discriminated against would be able to recover monetary damages. The case was filed as a class action lawsuit and later approved in Monday’s settlement.