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Mass General Brigham workers denied COVID-19 vaccine exemptions sue hospital

Mass General Brigham offices in Somerville. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Mass General Brigham offices in Somerville. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Several employees at the largest hospital system in Massachusetts say in a lawsuit that they were subjected to discrimination and retaliation in violation of federal law when their requests for medical or religious exemptions from the organization's COVID-19 vaccine mandate were denied.

The federal suit was filed Sunday by eight workers at Mass General Brigham.

Attorneys for the workers said in a memo attached to the lawsuit that they are not challenging the legality of the vaccine mandate, but are attempting to “prevent discrimination and retaliation based on religion or disability.”

“Defendant’s offering of medical and religious exemptions was illusory and not based in accordance with federal law,” the suit says.

Mass General Brigham “wrongfully denied all of the plaintiffs’ accommodation requests by creating a system that hindered its employees’ ability to communicate their beliefs and disabilities, restricted their access to those reviewing requests for accommodations and by total failure to engage in an interactive process,” the memo said.

Mass General Brigham announced in June that all of its 80,000 employees would have to prove they have received at least one shot by Wednesday or be placed on unpaid leave. Employees who have not received at least their first shot by Nov. 5 will lose their jobs.

More than 98% of the system's workers are vaccinated, Mass General Brigham said in a statement Tuesday.

“Mass General Brigham has communicated regularly with employees since we announced the mandate and had a process for employees to request an exemption for medical or religious reasons," the statement said. “We received a number of exemption requests, and each request was carefully considered by a knowledgeable team of reviewers."

The lawsuit seeks an injunction to stop the hospital system from placing workers on unpaid leave or firing them.

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