Unvaccinated Massachusetts General, Brigham workers fight to keep jobs

Injunction charges hospital corporation with discrimination violations

BOSTON — Hundreds of nurses and other Massachusetts General, Brigham workers stand to lose jobs in the coming weeks after refusing to get their vaccinations against COVID-19, something the hospital mandated back in June for all employees.

The vaccine mandate did allow workers to apply for religious exemptions. But two employees who spoke with Boston 25 News suggested that with few exemptions granted, this seemed more a charade than an effort to honor deeply held beliefs. These workers join alongside 227 other MGB employees, who have signed on to a legal complaint alleging the hospital corporation engaged in discrimination by failing to accommodate workers based on religion and disabilities.

Some of the plaintiffs complain that even with notes from doctors approving exemption from vaccination, they were denied, according to the filing.

“We’re not challenging the lawfulness of Mass General, Brigham’s policy requiring vaccination,” said Ryan McLane, one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs. “This is governed by federal law. This is governed by Title Seven. This is governed by the Americans with Disabilities Act.”

The injunction seeks to stop MGB from its plan to phase out unvaccinated employees without approved exemptions -- first, by placing them on unpaid administrative leave, beginning next week, then firing them all together on November 5.

Mass General Brigham spokesperson Bridget Perry responded for comment on the legal filing with a ‘no comment,’ at least for now: “We have not seen the complaint, so we are going to decline comment tonight.”

McLane expects MGB will be served with the complaint Monday, two days before unvaccinated employees will be placed on leave, the first step towards eventual dismissal.

“It’s more than just a paycheck to people. This is their career,” said Lauren Bradford, another of the plaintiff’s attorneys.

Nicole, a plaintiff who only wanted her first name used, has been a nurse at Brigham and Women’s for 15 years. She applied for a religious exemption from Covid vaccination last month.

“September 1, I scrambled to write a three-page letter based on a lot of personal religious history that is deep within me that I don’t share with a lot of people,” she said.

A week later, it was denied. Nicole said she asked for an explanation, but the committee the hospital set up to consider religious exemption requests wouldn’t give her one.

“I asked for a formal appeal, and about a week later, I got another e-mail saying, ‘No you cannot have an appeal. They’re not allowed,’” she said.

Ruben, who works in the MRI Department at Mass General, also saw his religious exemption request denied -- which he found odd, given his religious exemptions for flu vaccinations have routinely been approved.

“We’ve all worked and taken care of our patients through the worst of the pandemic, and we were safe enough to do it without a vaccine,” he said.

But without one, as it stands now, Nicole, Ruben, and hundreds of others will be out of a job in the short term -- unless a judge intervenes.

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