Employee Fired for Refusing COVID Vaccine Scores Major Victory

A federal jury has ordered Blue Cross BlueShield of Tennessee (BCBST) to pay nearly $700,000 to a former employee, Tanja Benton, who was terminated for refusing the COVID-19 vaccine based on her religious beliefs.

Benton, who worked as a Bio Statistical Research Scientist, argued that her role involved minimal client interaction and did not require physical presence at medical facilities.

Despite working independently and remotely throughout the pandemic without any issues, BCBST enforced a company-wide vaccine mandate in August 2021.

Benton refused the vaccine due to her objection to the use of aborted fetus cell lines in vaccine development.

Benton’s request for a religious accommodation to continue working remotely was denied by BCBST.

Instead, the company offered her a “Safe Harbor” period to find another position within the organization that was not subject to the vaccine mandate, but Benton believed this offer was insincere and impractical.

In her complaint, Benton alleged that BCBST violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Tennessee Human Rights Act by failing to accommodate her religious beliefs.

The jury found that Benton’s refusal to receive the COVID-19 vaccination was based on a sincerely held religious belief.

They concluded that BCBST did not provide a reasonable accommodation and could not demonstrate that accommodating her would result in undue hardship for the company.

The jury awarded Benton total damages of $687,240, including back pay damages, compensatory damages, and punitive damages.

This case highlights the ongoing debate surrounding vaccine mandates and religious exemptions.

It sets a precedent for individuals who refuse vaccination based on religious grounds and emphasizes the importance of employers providing reasonable accommodations for employees’ sincerely held beliefs.

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By Kate Stephenson
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