MILWAUKEE — The U.S. Justice Department sued a Wisconsin nursing home Tuesday on behalf of an employee who claims her religious beliefs were violated because she was forced to take a flu shot.
The lawsuit filed in federal court in Milwaukee alleges Barnell Williams “suffered severe emotional distress” because Lasata Care Center in Ozaukee County required her to be vaccinated or face losing her job in October 2016.
The lawsuit contends that Williams has “a religious belief stemming from her interpretation of the Bible that prohibited her from putting certain foreign substances, including vaccinations, in her body because it was a ‘Holy Temple.'” She feared she would be “going to Hell” as a result of her vaccination, according to the lawsuit.
Phone and email messages from The Associated Press seeking comment from the county, which owns the nursing home, and Lasata’s administrator were not immediately returned.
Several states require hospital staff to be immunized, but Wisconsin isn’t one of them, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, health care facilities often implement their own policies and allow for religious exemptions. Lasata has such an exemption but it required a letter from a clergy leader “supporting the exemption with a clear reason and explanation.”
Williams, who was a certified nursing assistant at Lasata from December 2015 until June 2017, said she couldn’t provide a letter “because she had no affiliation with any church or organized religion,” according to the lawsuit.
Williams offered to write a letter explaining her beliefs and citing Bible passages to support her position, as well as having family and friends attest to her sincerity. The lawsuit argues it was “unjustified” for the nursing home to not allow Williams to provide an alternative to a clergy letter.
Lasata stopped requiring a clergy letter after Williams filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which referred it to the Justice Department when mediation efforts failed.
The lawsuit seeks damaging for pain and suffering.