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11 former St. Charles employees sue hospital system for $2.5 million over COVID-19 vaccine mandate

KTVZ file

Alleges discrimination against religious beliefs; also claims hospital created 'hostile work environment'

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) – Eleven former St. Charles Health System employees are suing the organization for more than $2.5 million, claiming the hospital system violated their religious freedoms in discriminatory fashion in their unwavering requirement that they receive COVID-19 vaccinations.

Several of the former workers said they had applied for and received religious exemptions but were placed on unpaid leave and later fired. Two others’ requests for an exemption were denied and they, too, were fired, according to the lawsuit. Another chose not to seek a religious exemption but quit after more than 30 years with the facility.

All seek damages for lost wages or other costs, and several said the experiences and treatment they faced “caused major stress and anxiety.”

The lawsuit claims all the former workers had “worked without issue” and complied with St. Charles’ safety plan related to COVID-19 over the 18 months between when the pandemic began in March 2020 and the vaccine mandate imposition.

One worker said she had refused to take other vaccines when hired “and she was always allowed to work without question,” until the COVID-19 mandate, and “was told that vaccination was the only accommodation.”

The lawsuit also claims St. Charles "created and fostered a hostile work environment for the Plaintiffs
because of their religious beliefs. Plaintiffs were isolated, mocked, highlighted as being unvaccinated, ridiculed, and gaslighted by Defendant, its employees, and even at times, its patients."

The hospital system defended its actions in a brief statement provided to NewsChannel 21.

“St. Charles fulfilled its obligations to comply in good faith with both state and federal vaccine requirements for health care workers and prioritized the safety of its patients, its caregivers and the community during the global COVID-19 pandemic,” said Kayley Mendenhall, a spokesperson for St. Charles Health System. “We stand by our commitment to keep our community safe during that difficult time.”

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Barney Lerten

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