NorthShore to pay $10.3 million in class action over COVID-19 vaccine warrant

EVANSTON, IL — A local hospital conglomerate has agreed to pay more than $10 million to end a class action lawsuit over its mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy.

Representatives of NorthShore University HealthSystem and the group of 14 then-employees who filed a federal civil rights lawsuit in October 2021 have agreed to a settlement agreement to end the suit, according to the court records.

Lawyers for the staffers described the tentative class-wide settlement as “historic” and the “first of its kind”.

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NorthShore has agreed to establish a $10,337,500 fund, which will compensate approximately 523 of its current or former employees who were denied religious exemptions from its vaccination mandate requested between July 2021 and January 2022.

Hospital workers are eligible for payments whether they received a vaccine, quit because of it, or were fired because of their “religious declination of a COVID-19 vaccine.” , under the terms of the proposed agreement.

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An estimated 269 people quit or were fired from their jobs at NorthShore because of their religious exemption, while around 204 received the vaccine after their religious exemptions were denied.

According to a court filing, employees who agreed to be vaccinated despite their religious objections could be eligible to receive around $3,000, while those who were fired could receive around $25,000.

Identified in court documents as Jane Does 1 through 14, staff members include 11 nurses, a pharmacy technician, a patient access representative and a senior applications analyst.

Citing the use of fetal tissue in medical research, they alleged that the hospital operator’s requirement that its then approximately 17,000 employees be vaccinated against coronavirus discriminated against them because of their religious beliefs.

One of them obtained a religious accommodation and kept her job, while the other 13 left, according to court records.

The agreement provides that each of these 13 women will receive an additional $20,000. Their lawyers asked the judge to approve the award of more than $2.06 million in attorney’s fees, which they described as well below the amount typically awarded.

Although both parties have agreed to the settlement agreement, it still needs to be approved by a federal judge.

All employees terminated for refusing to be vaccinated for religious reasons may be rehired at their previous seniority level, if requested within three months of final approval of the settlement.

NorthShore also agreed to revise its staff vaccination policy and to “maintain a step-by-step review process for requests for religious exemptions and accommodations.”

Lawyers for the nurses said hospital officials have pledged to provide religious accommodations for all employees at each facility.

According to the request for court approval of the settlement agreement, attorneys for both parties met in May for a day-long mediation session with an experienced Title VII class action mediator, after which they are engaged in further negotiations to define each item on page 24. draft class action settlement agreement.

“The parties’ considerable efforts culminated in the settlement agreement – the product of hard-fought, principled negotiations initiated by a highly respected mediator,” according to the 29-page brief in support of the group’s certification application. of Settlement and Preliminary Settlement Approval.

A NorthShore spokesperson said in a statement that the settlement is in line with its revised staff vaccination policy. Since the lawsuit was originally filed, NorthShore has added three additional hospitals through a merger to reach more than 25,000 employees.

“We continue to support system-wide evidence-based vaccination requirements for everyone who works at NorthShore – Edward-Elmhurst Health and thank our team members for helping to keep our communities safe” , Colette Urban, director of public relations for NorthShore, told Patch. “The settlement reflects the implementation of a new system-wide vaccination policy that will include accommodation for team members with approved exemptions, including former employees who are being rehired.”

Jane Doe’s plaintiffs were represented by attorneys from the nonprofit Liberty Counsel, an Orlando, Fla.-based Christian ministry founded in 1989 by two married attorneys, according to its website. Its anti-LGBTQ advocacy led the Southern Poverty Law Center to designate it as a hate group.

Horatio Mihet, Liberty Counsel’s senior litigation attorney and lead attorney for Jane Does in the case, said in a statement that he was very pleased with the “historic” settlement.

“The sweeping policy change and substantial monetary relief required by the settlement will bring a strong measure of justice to NorthShore employees who have been ruthlessly forced to choose between their conscience and their jobs,” Mihet said. “This regulation should also serve as a strong warning to employers across the country that they cannot refuse to accommodate those who have sincere religious objections to forced vaccination mandates.”

Liberty Counsel founder and president Mat Staver also released a statement on Friday, describing the settlement as the “first of its kind in the country” involving mandatory coronavirus vaccinations.

“This settlement should be a wake-up call to all employers who have not accommodated or exempted employees who have objected to COVID injections for religious reasons. Let this case be a wake-up call to employers who have violated the title VII,” Staver said. “It is especially meaningful and gratifying that this first class-wide COVID regulation protects healthcare workers. Healthcare workers are heroes who give their lives every day to protect and treat their patients. They are needed more than ever.

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