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Mass General Brigham employees sue hospital system for denying COVID-19 vaccination exemptions

Mass General Brigham offices in Somerville.Lane Turner/Globe Staff

A group of Mass General Brigham employees are suing the health care system for denying their medical or religious exemptions for getting a COVID-19 vaccine, arguing that the denials are discriminatory and violate protections under the Americans with Disabilities Act, according to court documents.

The lawsuit was filed Sunday in US District Court as Mass General Brigham, the state’s largest hospital system, nears its Wednesday deadline for employees to show they have received at least one shot or be placed on unpaid leave.

Employees who have not received at least their first shot by Nov. 5 will be terminated.

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The lawsuit seeks a preliminary injunction to stop the hospital system from placing workers on unpaid leave or terminating their employment, claiming that at least 229 employees saw their requests for exemption denied “without a showing of undue hardship.”

In a memo attached to the suit, attorneys Ryan P. McLane and Lauren Bradford say Mass General Brigham chose to “ignore” federal law and created its own internal process for granting religious and medical accommodations. The employees are not arguing against the hospital system’s vaccination policy, they wrote.

“This case is not a challenge to the lawfulness of the policy imposed by the defendant, but rather an attempt to prevent discrimination and retaliation based on religion or disability,” they wrote.

Mass General Brigham “wrongfully denied all of the plaintiffs’ accommodation requests by creating a system that hindered its employees’ ability to communicate their beliefs and disabilities, restricted their access to those reviewing requests for accommodations and by total failure to engage in an interactive process,” the memo said.

Mass General Brigham, which employs 80,000, said it has communicated regularly with employees since the company announced the mandate, and had a process for them to request an exemption for medical or religious reasons. “We received a number of exemption requests, and each request was carefully considered by a knowledgeable team of reviewers,” the heath system said in a statement.

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The company said more than 98 percent of its employees are vaccinated.

Eight employees are named in the lawsuit, including a woman who said she was pregnant but was denied an accommodation. One man said he was denied a medical disability accommodation despite submitting three letters from two doctors detailing why he could not receive the vaccine. Four employees who sought a religious accommodation were denied, and two employees who sought both a religious or medical disability accommodation were denied, the lawsuit says.

In June, Mass General Brigham was among a group of the state’s hospitals that mandated all employees get vaccinated against COVID-19.

Roughly 1,900 employees at Mass General Brigham remained unvaccinated or had failed to submit documentation showing they had received at least one dose of a vaccine as of Friday, the hospital system said last week. That number makes up about 3 percent of the 80,000-person workforce, the company said.

Kay Lazar of the Globe Staff contributed to this report.


Nick Stoico can be reached at nick.stoico@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @NickStoico.