Judge: Vaccine-refusing Muslim hospital worker can't sue to get job back

From the Boston Herald

A Children’s Hospital health care worker who refused to get a flu shot — claiming the pork byproduct violated her Islamic beliefs — can’t sue to get her job back, a federal judge has ruled.

U.S. District Court Judge Denise Casper this week upheld Children’s 2012 firing of Leontine Robinson, a Muslim woman who had declined the vaccination because, court papers noted, it was produced in part with “pork byproduct.”

Casper found that Children’s Hospital offered Robinson reasonable alternatives to the objectionable serum, and that allowing her to work in a patient-care position while unvaccinated would put an “undue hardship” on the Boston hospital — exposing patients to the risk of infection.

“Robinson worked in a patient-care area. She worked closely with patients, regularly sitting near or touching them as she worked on their admission to the hospital,” Casper wrote. “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.”

Robinson’s lawyer said he is considering an appeal, saying hospitals shouldn’t be in the business of deciding whether a person’s religious beliefs are legitimate.

“I think there is an emerging trend where a person’s religious rights are subordinate to science,” said James Small Jr., Robinson’s attorney.

Children’s Hospital officials had offered Robinson a “pork-free vaccine,” but she declined to take it because she said “her religion had a moratorium on all vaccines,” according to the decision. She was also given time to seek a different job at the hospital that would remove her from contact with patients but Robinson “did not apply for any other hospital position” aside from a job with medical records, which she didn’t get, according to court papers.

“Robinson argues that the hospital should have done more to find her a new position at the hospital,” Casper wrote. “Employers, however, are not obligated to create a position to accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs.”

Robinson had taken a tetanus vaccine previously “because she was told that that vaccine was mandatory and that failure to take it would be grounds for termination,” according to court documents.

When asked why Robinson chose one vaccine but not another, Small said, “It’s complicated.

“It’s not an easy, black-and-white situation,” he said. “She didn’t know the content of the shot. She didn’t know where it came from.”

In a court document filed in September, Robinson admitted that she agreed to take a tetanus shot because “it was my belief that tetanus shots were authorized by the Nation of Islam.”

Children’s Hospital did not respond to requests for comment.

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