A group of 73 Geisinger employees who have received religious waivers from the health system’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate are seeking a federal order banning their employers from requiring tests for the disease twice a week.
The workers allege in their class action court petition filed Monday that if they reject three PCR or antigen tests, they will be fired on Nov. 16.
Testing began Tuesday, the lawsuit says.
Their attorney, Gregory Stapp, is asking the US Middle District Court of Pennsylvania to issue an injunction by 5 p.m. Monday.
Stapp asks the court to block the test requirement and declare it discriminatory, prevent the plaintiffs from terminating employment and give time to file a complaint with the Equal Employment Commission.
Geisinger, through a company spokesperson, declined to comment on the court filing. It is represented by the law firm of Harrisburg, Buchanan, Ingersoll & Rooney.
Chief US District Judge Matthew Brann presides over the case. A conference call with attorneys in the case is scheduled for 11 a.m. on Nov. 15.
The health system requires COVID-19 vaccinations for all employees, with some receiving medical or religious waivers. According to Geisinger, a Nov. 1 deadline passed with 24,000 employees meeting and 150 fired for not adhering to the mandate.
The lawsuit is aimed at 13 Geisinger entities that employ the plaintiffs, including Geisinger Clinic, Geisinger Medical Center and Geisinger Health Plan.
While some employees have 1 or 2 years of experience, one with only 2 months, many more have 15 years or more, including one with 38 years, according to the legal filing.
The lawsuit claims six counts, including violations of the Nuremberg Code, federal law and the US Constitution.
“Geisinger maintains this mandate regardless of genuine religious beliefs for those employees,” the lawsuit states
According to the lawsuit, the employees allege Geisinger’s terms of religious exemption violate freedom of religion, the right to privacy and medical autonomy, discriminate on the basis of religion and equal protection, conspire against their civil rights and threat of dismissal are retaliatory measures.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision protecting a woman’s right to abortion is cited alongside other case law, particularly regarding medical choice.
The lawsuit says Geisinger has not provided guidance on the conditions needed to get a religious exemption. It states that since the company-approved test kits are only approved in an emergency, plaintiffs have a legal right to refuse their use.
It also challenges the performance and accuracy of the test kits and claims that potentially harmful chemical agents such as ethylene oxide pose a risk of cancer.
In making these claims, the lawsuit cites the test kits’ own legal disclaimers, an investigation into false positives, and federal government guidance on the potential harms of the aforementioned chemical.
Also, the plaintiffs allege that Geisinger discriminates by requiring unvaccinated workers to exhaust their own paid leave in the event of a quarantine, which is automatically 14 days for them. Vaccinated employees receive company-paid leave and, subject to certain conditions, do not have to go into a full 14-day quarantine, the lawsuit says.
“Plaintiffs believe and therefore allege that the defendants treat unvaccinated workers with a genuine religious belief that does not permit them to inject any of the three EUA-approved vaccines differently from vaccinated workers,” the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit states there is no “credible evidence to demonstrate asymptomatic spread” of COVID-19, citing a study by Chinese researchers and comments from both a World Health Organization disease expert and Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.