Benefits

Religious Objections to Health Care Requirements

By

Feb. 22, 2013

Sakile Chenzira, a customer-service representative at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, refused to get a flu shot required by her employer and claimed that her religious beliefs as a vegan prohibited her from ingesting animal products or byproducts including the flu vaccine cultured in chicken eggs. In the past, the hospital had accommodated her beliefs, but in December 2010 the facility fired her for her refusal.

Chenzira sued the hospital, claiming it discriminated against her because of her religious beliefs in veganism.

The U.S. district court ruled that veganism could be considered a “religious practice” and that Chenzira may have a plausible bias claim against the hospital. Chenzira v. Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, S.D. Ohio, No. 1:11-cv-00917, (Dec. 27, 2012).

Along these same lines, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act has been challenged in several recent cases. Its provisions require that employers provide contraceptive coverage. Several business owners and organizations have gone to the courts since they objected to providing health care to their employees that opposed the companies’ religious beliefs. In a recent decision, a U.S. district court in Missouri granted a preliminary injunction in favor of several religious business owners. Pulverizer Co. v. HHS, W.D. Mo., No. 12-cv-3459, (Dec. 20, 2012).

By contrast, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit decided a similar case using the likelihood of success on the merits standard and refused to grant a preliminary junction to several religious business owners. Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. v. Sebelius, 10th Cir., No. 12-6294( Dec. 20, 2012).

Employers and employees should review developments and remain cautious to the legal ramifications of their actions and available legal remedies.

Marty Denis, James E. Hall and Mark T. Kobata are partners in the law firm Barlow, Kobata & Denis, with offices in Los Angeles and Chicago. Comment below or email editors@workforce.com.

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