Mayo Clinic sued over COVID-19 vaccine mandate termination

Less than five months after firing more than 700 employees who failed to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by its self-imposed deadline, Mayo Clinic is facing a lawsuit from one former employee.

In early January the Rochester-based health system confirmed it had fired more than 700 employees – roughly 1 percent of a total 73,000 across all of Mayo Clinic locations.

Former employee turned plaintiff Shelley Kiel has filed a complaint to demand a jury trial, alleging Mayo Clinic didn’t have any case-by-case analysis or individualized interactive process to consider religious exemptions, and that their terminations were pre-determined.

Mayo instituted a company-wide Jan. 3, 2022, deadline to receive at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and not be overdue for a second dose for the Moderna and Pfizer versions. Only medical or religious exemptions were allowed, "the majority of which were approved," Mayo said at the time

"This is a time when Mayo Clinic must stand firmly behind the evidence supporting the efficacy and safety of COVID-19 vaccines to help protect the health and safety of our patients, workforce, visitors, and communities… Based on science and data, it's clear that vaccination keeps people out of the hospital and saves lives," the clinic said in a statement.

According to the complaint, Kiel previously tested positive for COVID-19 and recovered, which provided her with natural immunity. Throughout 2020 and 2021, she was asked to work her own, plus additional shifts in order to cover the increase in treatment and care for patients during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic – doing so while unvaccinated.

Kiel requested a religious exemption form the vaccine mandate because she, "is a Christian who believes, based on her interpretation of scripture, that her body is a Temple to the Holy Spirit and it violates her religious beliefs and conscience to take the vaccination."

"Rather than engage in a legitimate interactive process, respect the sincerity of religious beliefs, or attempt reasonable accommodation, Mayo used boilerplate language to justify its pre-determined result," according to the complaint. Remote working accommodations were not offered.

The complaint further alleges that throughout the process Mayo staff were further instructed to "endorse the vaccine or say nothing."

Only a couple of months after terminating Kiel, Mayo reversed part of its vaccine mandate – demonstrating that the terminations were either unnecessary or a pretext, according to the lawsuit.

Mayo Clinic is Minnesota's largest employer, and also operates hospitals and clinics in Arizona, Florida, Iowa, and Wisconsin.

When reached for comment by FOX 9, Mayo Clinic sent a statement saying, "Mayo Clinic stands firmly behind the evidence supporting the efficacy and safety of COVID-19 vaccines to help protect the health and safety of our patients, workforce, visitors and communities.  The Mayo Clinic COVID-19 vaccination program remains in effect. Mayo Clinic will defend its vaccine program implementation and disputes many of the factual allegations in the lawsuit.

"Mayo Clinic recognizes that some employees have deeply held religious beliefs that led them to seek exemption from COVID-19 vaccination. In compliance with established laws, Mayo offered its employees the option to request a religious accommodation. The majority of religious exemption requests were granted.

"Mayo Clinic implemented a required COVID-19 vaccination program for all staff to advance the primary value of Mayo Clinic – the needs of the patient come first. Based on science and data, COVID-19 vaccinations prevent hospitalizations and save lives among those who become infected with COVID-19. 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."