In 2016 while working at the Ozaukee County-owned nursing home, Lasata Care Center, Barnell Williams was forced to get a flu shot or lose her job, in spite of her religious objection. And on Tuesday, the federal government sued Wisconsin’s Ozaukee County, claiming Williams had faced religious discrimination.
Even though she had explained to the nursing home that the vaccine went against her religious beliefs because her body was a “Holy Temple,” and the Bible prohibited her from putting foreign substances into it, the home required her to either submit a “written statement from their clergy leader supporting the exception with a clear reason and explanation,”1 according to the lawsuit, or find other employment.
However, because at the time Williams did not belong to a specific church or organized religion and couldn’t get a clergy leader to write her an exemption before the nursing home’s deadline, she got the shot. It was explained to her that if she should “Consider this your last day.”2
“Williams, who felt she had no choice, reluctantly agreed to get her flu shot, the lawsuit says. Once she did, she “cried uncontrollably,” according to the lawsuit, and suffered emotional distress that included “withdrawing from work and her personal life, suffering from sleep problems, anxiety, and fear of ‘going to Hell’ because she had disobeyed the Bible by receiving the shot.”3
The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages for Williams’s “pain and suffering” in addition to “additional relief as justice may require.”4
At issue is that the nursing home’s policy violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, sex, and religion. (It should be noted that Lasata has since eliminated their clergy letter requirement. I bet they did!)
We will keep you updated as more information on the lawsuit becomes available.