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Fired Kaiser workers file lawsuit over religious exemption denials

CAPTION - Employees fired by Kaiser are asked to stand during a meeting Nov. 2 at Four Twelve Church in Murrieta. Village News/Rick Monroe photo

Rick Monroe

Special to the Village News

A press conference in Murrieta on Nov. 2 was more like a revival or praise meeting, with former employees of Kaiser Permanente – fired because they would not take the Covid-19 vaccine – rejoicing and thanking God.

There was very little press presence in the full sanctuary. Most of the crowd, who came from various parts of the state, were vocal about their faith because they are Christians and are among the 411 plaintiffs in a wrongful termination lawsuit filed on their behalf the previous day in Alameda County.

The former Kaiser employees were fired after remaining unvaccinated and later having their provisional religious exemption denied.

Lead attorney Dan Watkins said the wrongful termination lawsuit would likely result in a multi-million dollar judgment against Kaiser. He couldn't give a figure, he said, because each person would have an individual claim.

"It's a simple case," Watkins said in an interview two days after the press conference. "Kaiser crossed the line. There are state laws that they didn't follow."

The Orange County attorney added that more people have heard about the lawsuit, and he may represent another 100 or more individuals in another filing.

Attorney Daniel Watkins has represented other groups denied religious exemptions, including a group of more than 20 Cedars-Sinai Medical Center workers who are suing the hospital, alleging they were wrongfully denied requests for religious and medical exemptions to the hospital's coronavirus vaccine mandate and then subjected to retaliation and harassment.

Other groups across the country have filed similar claims.

Watkins said that each of the plaintiffs requested a religious exemption from the defendant's Covid-19 vaccination policy as a reasonable accommodation for their sincerely held religious belief. In response, and in violation of the law, each of these employees received a blanket denial of their request, he said.

"It's a clear violation of the employees' rights under state law," Watkins said.

During the meeting, Soraya Love of Moreno Valley was interviewed privately about her experience.

Love said she was a pharmacist assistant for 24 years at Kaiser Riverside. After being given a provisional exemption for her faith, she said she felt intimidated multiple times by having to explain in writing her faith.

"I felt they were trying to scare me," she said, "and I was going through a divorce at the same time, so it was very stressful."

Love now works as a transitional life coach. "I thank the Lord for the new career," she said, "I wouldn't go back to Kaiser."

North San Diego County resident Tori Jensen, emcee of the meeting, also shared her story:

"I was a nurse for over 10 years and a registered dietitian, working for Kaiser for five years before I was walked out by security for refusing to get vaccinated. Religious freedom is under attack in America today. Biblical principles that this country was founded on are under attack. Traditional Christian morals and values are under attack."

"I was asked to prove to Kaiser with a written document that I have a sincerely held religious belief," she continued. "The last time I checked, my employer can't even ask my age, gender, or marital status – much less ask for me to write a dissertation about my faith to keep my job, but I did it, and my exemption was provisionally approved. Then in October 2021, Kaiser subjected me to more harassing questions to prove to them that I have a sincere faith. Even though illegal, I complied and then, while I was on shift working as a nurse on our COVID unit during our pandemic, I received notification that my request for a religious exemption had been denied. 'It has been determined that your request is not based on a sincerely held belief,' the letter said."

"After eight hours of asking to speak with the person who played god with my life, I was escorted out by security," Jensen said. "Kaiser accepted many, many religious exemptions – they just didn't accept mine."

Watkins said a key part of their case is the way Kaiser approved some exemptions and others – written the same way – were denied.

"They discriminated against us with hateful rhetoric and said we shouldn't have the right to refuse," Jensen said. "They threatened to cut off our livelihood if we didn't deny our faith for their mandates. Kaiser tried to scare us, but what they didn't realize is they just made us stronger. So not only are we still standing, we are now an army of faithful believers marching forward with the power of God in our backs. We refused to deny our God and bow down to Kaiser and we would do it again today. We have a sincerely held religious belief that our God is who He says He is, no matter the cost."

Watkins introduced Michael Hamilton, an attorney from Kentucky, saying he joined in representing the 411 plaintiffs to help, making it "an incredible team to fight for you."

Hamilton challenged Kaiser, saying, "Are you afraid to stand up and do the right thing? Or will you double down?"

"Kaiser must be made accountable," Hamilton added. "God is with us."

There were three other speakers: Dr. Janci Lindsay of Houston, who said the Covid vaccine was unnecessary and dangerous; Dr. Jeff Barke, author of "A Physician's Take on the Exaggerated Fear of the Coronavirus;" and Pastor Tim Thompson of the host church.

Thompson pointed out the oddity of there being 411 plaintiffs and his church is Four Twelve Church, based on three scriptures that end in 4:12.

The pastor has been an ardent opponent of mask and vaccine mandates and refused to close the 4:12 Church down during the pandemic, a decision that was later vindicated when the Supreme Court found the ban on indoor services unconstitutional.

 

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