More than two dozen former employees have brought lawsuits against Mayo Clinic and related entities alleging they were wrongly terminated after the clinic did not grant them religious exemptions to a policy mandating COVID-19 vaccination.
Nine lawsuits against Mayo, listing a total of 27 plaintiffs, have been filed in the U.S. District Court of Minnesota during May and June.
Former workers say the clinic failed to undertake an individual and interactive process for evaluating their requests for religious exemptions.
The clinic "put itself in the position of deciding the sincerity of the religious belief of the plaintiffs and whether a belief was 'religious' or not," says the first of the lawsuits, which was filed by Sherry Ihde, a supervisor in the bacteriology lab who worked at Mayo for 23 years.
"Defendant Mayo did not provide information about its process for determining whether the employees' sincerely held religious beliefs would be accommodated," her lawsuit states.
Mayo says it disputes many of the allegations in the lawsuits and will defend its vaccine program implementation.
"Mayo Clinic recognizes that some employees have deeply held religious beliefs that led them to seek exemption from COVID-19 vaccination," the clinic says. "In compliance with established laws, Mayo offered its employees the option to request a religious accommodation. The majority of religious exemption requests were granted."
In January, the clinic said that about 700 workers were losing their jobs for failing to comply with its policy, which called on employees to either receive their first shots or obtain an exemption for medical or religious reasons.
The clinic introduced its policy in 2021, saying it was necessary to provide the safest possible environment at Mayo, which treats patients who come from around the world for complex care.
Some plaintiffs, however, argued that they either worked remotely, didn't work directly with patients or had shown they could provide care safely without being vaccinated.
A few months after the workers were terminated, plaintiffs say Mayo reversed a testing requirement within its vaccine mandate policy — a move the former employees argue shows their terminations were either unnecessary or a pretext. Some plaintiffs say the clinic granted religious exemptions to younger and lesser-paid employees.
In a statement, Mayo said its vaccination program remains in effect.
The lawsuits bring claims under religious discrimination statutes, the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Minnesota Human Rights Act. Plaintiffs say they've suffered economic and other damages, including financial losses that exceed $75,000 each.
"There are 90 more [plaintiffs] that are going to be filed for a total of approximately 120 wrongful terminations," Gregory Erickson, the lead attorney on the lawsuits, said in an email. Some cases are being brought against Olmsted Medical Center in Rochester, said Erickson, a lawyer with the Minneapolis-based firm Mohrman, Kaardal & Erickson.
In the lawsuits against Mayo, most plaintiffs are Minnesota residents, although a few live in Arizona and Wisconsin — two other states where the Rochester-based clinic operates. Terminations primarily involved employees who didn't get vaccinated, although Erickson estimated that about 15% received religious exemptions to the vaccine but not from a requirement that they undergo routine testing.
One such former employee — CT technologist Kristin Rubin, who worked at the clinic for more than 25 years — questioned the fairness of testing only unvaccinated workers.
"Mayo's vaccinated employees were contracting and transmitting the omicron and delta variants at substantially similar rates to their unvaccinated employees and were not required to submit to weekly testing," she said in her lawsuit.
Mayo said it would not comment further on pending litigation. In general, the clinic said it implemented a required COVID-19 vaccination program in order to prioritize patient care needs.
"Based on science and data, COVID-19 vaccinations prevent hospitalizations and save lives among those who become infected with COVID-19," the clinic said in a statement. "That's true for everyone in our communities — and it's especially true for the many patients with serious or complex diseases who seek care at Mayo Clinic each day."