Jury Awards $687,000 to Woman Fired for Refusing COVID Shot 

CHATTANOOGA, TN – A federal jury has determined BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee wrongly fired one its research scientists for refusing to take the COVID-19 shot and awarded the former employee $687,000 in backpay and damages.

The jury found that Tanja Benton had “proved by a preponderance of the evidence that her refusal to receive the COVID vaccination was based upon a sincerely held religious belief.” In addition, the jury declared that BlueCross BlueShield “did not prove” it had offered Benton reasonable accommodation, nor did it prove a reasonable accommodation would hurt the company. The jury awarded Benton $177,240 in back pay, $10,000 in compensation, and $500,000 in punitive damages.

In 2022, BlueCross BlueShield instructed Benton, who had worked for the insurance firm for 16 years, that she needed to be “fully vaccinated” to keep her job, which involved some public interaction but was mostly conducted remotely at home. According to Benton’s lawsuit, she refused the company’s shot mandate after her “personal research” revealed the COVID shots are “derived from aborted fetus cell lines.” Benton stated she could not “in good conscience” take the shot for it would “defile her body” and “dishonor God.” After seeking other positions within the company with less public interaction, BlueCross BlueShield notified her that all positions required the shot. After her religious exemption and subsequent appeal were both denied, the company fired her for not complying with its shot mandate.

Benton’s lawsuit stated that BlueCross BlueShield violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Tennessee Human Rights Act, both of which bar an employer from discriminating against any person because of their religion. Under Title VII, employers can only deny religious exemption requests if they can prove any accommodation would create an undue hardship on the employer.

The lawsuit stated that BlueCross BlueShield could not prove that Benton’s employment as an unvaccinated research scientist would be an undue hardship. The suit also stated the company could not “show that it made any good-faith efforts to accommodate [Benton’s] sincerely held religious beliefs.”

Benton was not the only person BlueCross BlueShield terminated over its shot mandate. Between October and November 2021, 42 other employees were fired and several of those former employees have filed a class action lawsuit against the company alleging similar complaints as to Benton.

Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, “Employers cannot sidestep federal and state laws to dismiss employees with sincerely held religious objections to the experimental COVID shots. The jury correctly held employees are entitled to religious exemptions and should not have to choose between their faith and their livelihood.”

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