Hospital seeks arbitration of dismissed workers’ religious discrimination claims
Most of the 21 former Cedars-Sinai Medical Center employees who sued the hospital, alleging they were wrongfully denied requests for religious and medical exemptions to the hospital’s coronavirus vaccine mandate, then subjected to retaliation and harassment, must submit their claims to binding arbitration, the hospital lawyers are arguing in new court documents.
Seventeen of the plaintiffs signed employment contracts saying they would arbitrate all legal claims regarding their work at the hospital, according to court documents filed Thursday by hospital attorneys.
Each plaintiff’s desire to be excused from the vaccination order was considered on an individual basis, according to court documents from the hospital’s attorneys.
“Their requests for exemption were considered and ultimately denied,” the hospital’s attorneys say in their court documents. “Their jobs were terminated after they refused to be vaccinated.”
Hospital lawyers also want a judge to stay the entire case, including the claims of the four people who have not signed an arbitration agreement, until the arbitration process concludes. .
“Absent a stay, the court would be required to decide the same legal issues as the arbitrator regarding the same policy at the same time in a separate forum,” the hospital’s attorneys say in their court documents. “Furthermore, in the absence of a stay, the same witnesses will be called to testify in separate and concurrent proceedings, on the same issues and at the same time.”
Cedars-Sinai’s “malicious and reckless actions are causing intense and undue stress” on the plaintiffs, who were “forced to choose between keeping their jobs, which they love, and honoring their most deeply held religious beliefs about life, goal and death”. the lawsuit filed on Jan. 31 states.
The hospital’s “obstructive and cavalier handling” of plaintiffs’ exemption requests “intensifies the stress of these former employees every day,” the lawsuit says.
Each complainant requested an exemption from the hospital’s COVID-19 vaccination policy and all were advised: “Declined as it would be an undue hardship to comply with your request due to the nature of your job responsibilities. Please understand that you must comply with the COVID-19 vaccination schedule or face termination,” according to the suit.
The sincerity of an employee’s stated religious belief is generally unchallenged and is usually presumed or easily established, the suit says.
“Employers are not and should not be responsible for deciding whether a person has religious beliefs for the right reasons and they should limit the inquiry to whether the religious belief system is sincere or not; and should not review the grounds or reasons to believe in the first place,” according to the lawsuit.
The law protects sincere religious beliefs even when some members of the same religious organization, sect or denomination disagree with an individual’s beliefs, according to the lawsuit.
Plaintiffs cannot agree to any of the three currently available COVID-19 vaccines because they are developed and produced from aborted fetal cell lines, the suit states.
“So while there may be religious leaders and other adherents whose belief in scripture is different and who might be willing to accept any of the three currently available COVID-19 vaccines despite their connection to aborted fetal cell lines, any CSMC employee is permitted to interpret the scriptural commands differently,” the suit states.
The hospital, in asserting that granting plaintiffs a religious exemption would create undue hardship, “provides no factual evidence to support its claim,” the suit says.
The CSMC also turns a blind eye to “the current state of the science, which clearly indicates that vaccinated people spread COVID-19 just as unvaccinated people do,” according to the lawsuit, which says the plaintiffs experienced harassment and reprisals for their religious positions.
Hospitals across the state are providing tests and masks as reasonable accommodations for those who oppose vaccination mandates, which is consistent with state Department of Public Health guidelines, the suit says.
The plaintiffs are Rashunda Pitts, Ohara Aivaz, Katrissie Alexander, Glemma De Castro-Voungnassou, Daniela Bandera-Rojas, Kara Boyer, Marlon Bustamante, Maria Cabili, Lindsey Green, Matthew Green, Rose Lane, Mercedes Mendez, Leilani Miranda, Cherise Mosiman, Elmar Park, Reynaldo Paz, Irina Prystupa, Monique Resnick, Daniela Shamsaeirad, Mihaela Te Winkel and Asuncion Viray.
The applicants held a variety of positions. Aivaz worked as a physician, Pitts as a critical care coordinator, Lane as an MRI technologist, and Winkel as a nurse practitioner. Many of them worked as clinical nurses.
A hearing on the hospital’s motion to force arbitration is scheduled for July 13 before Judge William F. Fahey.