ERIE, Pa. — Federal authorities are suing a Pennsylvania hospital, alleging religious discrimination in the firing of six employees who refused to get flu shots.

The lawsuit was filed Thursday in federal court in Erie by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against Saint Vincent Hospital, which was founded by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Northwestern Pennsylvania.

Beginning in October 2013, the hospital required employees to get flu shots unless they were granted an exemption on medical or religious grounds, in which case they were required to wear a face mask. The suit alleges that six employees who refused to get flu shots due to their religious beliefs were fired, while the hospital granted medical exemptions to 14 others in late 2013 and early 2014.

Attorney Debra Lawrence said the plaintiffs were part of the Russian Orthodox, Independent Fundamental Baptist, Christian mysticism, Methodist or nondenominational Christian faiths. In such cases, the legal standard isn’t whether officials agree with the religious beliefs “or whether those beliefs are the recognized position or official doctrine of any particular religious organization or group,” she said.

“Absent proof establishing an undue hardship, federal law requires an employer to provide reasonable accommodations for sincerely held employee religious beliefs, even if some may consider those beliefs idiosyncratic,” she said in a statement.

The Erie Times-News ( ) reported that Saint Vincent required certification by a clergy member for such exemptions, and that the fired employees were told they “did not provide proof of religious doctrine.”

Saint Vincent officials said in a statement that requests for exemptions are always given “careful and appropriate consideration.”

“We respectfully disagree with the EEOC’s position and characterization of how the employee claims outlined in its lawsuit were handled by the hospital,” the statement said.

Information from: Erie Times-News,