June 2016 Church & State - June 2015

Mass. Hospital Worker Loses Vaccine Exemption Fight

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A former employee of Children’s Hospital in Boston was not entitled to a religious exemption from a vaccine requirement, a federal court has ruled.

According to The National Law Review, Leontine Robinson belongs to the Nation of Islam and had argued that the vaccine violated her religious beliefs because it contained gelatin, a pork byproduct. The hospital offered her a gelatin-free alternative, but Robinson still refused to get the vaccine and failed to persuade her employers that she qualified for a medical exemption.

Administrators then appointed a staff member to help Robinson use accrued leave to search for a replacement position at the hospital that would not place her in close proximity to patients. She failed to locate a replacement job, and the hospital terminated her employment.

Robinson filed suit, claiming her religious-freedom rights had been violated by the vaccine requirement. U.S. District Court Judge Denise J. Casper rejected that argument and ruled instead that granting Robinson a total exemption from the vaccine would have caused undue hardship for the hospital by jeopardizing patients’ health. Casper noted that Robinson’s position required her to work closely with patients as she processed their admission to the hospital.

“Had the Hospital permitted her to forgo the vaccine but keep her patient-care job, the Hospital could have put the health of vulnerable patients at risk,” Casper wrote. “To allow Robinson to avoid relatively more vulnerable patients and not others would have been unworkable as well.” (Robinson v. Children’s Hospital Boston)

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