Asante Health Care Workers Claim Wrongful Dismissal After Refusing to be Vaccinated Against COVID-19

MEDFORD, Ore. — Health Care workers who say they were forced to take unpaid leave after refusing to be vaccinated against COVID-19 have taken the Asante health care group to the U.S. District Court in Medford.

They are claiming wrongful dismissal for exercising their religious beliefs. A total of 13 federal court cases involving religious discrimination and wrongful dismissal were brought to court yesterday (Wednesday) afternoon.


There are 120 Court Cases Involving COVID-19 Vaccination Ongoing in Oregon Courts

The 13 cases brought before the Medford District Court are among a total of 120 cases statewide involving COVID-19 vaccinations, according to the attorney representing three of the local plaintiffs.

The hospitals cited in the Medford District Court proceedings are Asante Rogue Regional Medical Center, Asante Three Rivers Medical Center, and the Asante Health System.

Ray Hacke, the Salem-based attorney representing three of the plaintiffs, says that by placing health care workers on unpaid leave for citing religious reasons for refusing the vaccine, Asante had forced them to choose between their beliefs and their employment.

Unpaid leave is the same as termination, says Hacke. He says federal law makes it clear that workers who articulate and identify religious beliefs as the reason for refusing to be vaccinated should not be penalized by employers.

Citing plaintiff Ronda Osterberg as an example, Hacke says she was “fired outright” after spelling out her faith as the basis of her rationale for declining the COVID-19 vaccine. Asante staff chaplain, James Wilson, is also among plaintiffs who refused the vaccine.


Attorney Says Asante has Undermined its Position

The attorney believes Asante has undermined its position by reinstating health care workers previously placed on unpaid leave after refusing to be vaccinated. The workers involved had returned after their six-month unpaid leave layoff to mitigate their financial damages. He says Asante reappointed the workers without vaccination which undermines the medical group’s reason for dismissing the employees in the first place.

Hearing Held to Consolidate Judicial Process

The hearing was called to consolidate the 13 cases to allow simultaneous processing through the judicial system. Hacke says this will allow the federal court to advance or end all 13 cases at the same time.

One of those was attorney Hacke’s potential class-action lawsuit. He claims that Asante is resisting the class-action because it could involve “a substantial amount of money.” In a class-action case, legal counsel needs only to prove a sampling of cases brought by plaintiffs as representative of all the actions, and not each one individually.

Hacke is also counsel for Chaplain James Wilson, a security guard, and a plaintiff who works remotely.


Plaintiffs Against the Asante Hospital Group

The claims against Asante Rogue Regional Medical Center have been lodged by: McCune et al, Burns et la, Temple, and Vargas et al. The case against Three Rivers was lodged by Gemmrig. The other cases against the Asante group include Kather et al, Thompson et al, Lott, Johnson, Folin, Gilinsky and Wolfe.

The Kather et al case involves 14 plaintiffs. Apart from Michele Kather, other plaintiffs in the class-action are Kourtney Selee, Alyssa Button, Anna Drevenstedt, Justin Cirillo, Miles Kopish, Ron Hittinger, Tamara Rada, Holly Martin, Michaela Begg, Jessica Stone, Ronda Osterberg who was dismissed after citing her religious beliefs, Myranda Miller, and the Asanta Chaplain, James Wilson.

Counsel for the plaintiffs, Ray Hacke, says the court will determine adequate compensation based on factors such as anxiety, depression, distress, and punitive damages. He described these factors as immeasurable.

According to Hacke, plaintiffs must demonstrate that conflict was caused by the religious beliefs. The employer had to be informed about this conflict. Thirdly, it has to be shown that the employer failed to accommodate the employees or took adverse action against them.

From the other side, the employer will have to demonstrate that undue hardship prevented them from accommodating the employees or that employees were accommodated, which Asante is claiming unpaid leave provided.

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