Eight Los Alamos National Laboratory workers have sued their employer, claiming they are being punished and face firing for declining COVID-19 vaccinations on religious and medical grounds.
The lawsuit, filed late last week in U.S. District Court in Albuquerque, accuses the lab and its primary contractor, Triad National Security, of violating the plaintiffs’ civil rights by not acknowledging their religious beliefs.
The lab on Aug. 23 mandated coronavirus vaccinations at a time when a late-summer surge of the virus had resulted in the hospitalization of three unvaccinated lab employees, the lawsuit says. The mandate applied to regular employees, on-site contractors and teleworkers.
In an email, Los Alamos National Laboratory issued a two-sentence response to the lawsuit: “Our most important asset is our workforce, and our reason for requiring employees to be vaccinated is simple: vaccination is the best tool we have to prevent the spread of COVID-19 at LANL. Our vaccination practices have been upheld in state court, over 99% of our workforce has now taken steps to be fully vaccinated, and we will continue to protect the safety of our workers by supporting our vaccine policy.”
Earlier this month, state District Judge Jason Lidyard denied a request to block a vaccination order by Triad, which cleared the way for employees to be fired if they refused the inoculations. Lidyard rejected arguments that a policy requiring employees to be vaccinated or lose their jobs is coercive.
The eight plaintiffs for the most part allege they won’t get the vaccinations because they say aborted fetal cell lines have been used in “testing, development or production” of the vaccines.
Four of the eight also asked for medical exemptions because they already had COVID-19 and contended they have immunity against the disease. Those medical exemption requests have been denied.
“It is our hope that the result of the lawsuit would work to the benefit of everyone that is in the same situation” at the laboratory, said attorney Tyler Brooks, who is affiliated with the Chicago-based Thomas More Society — a nonprofit law firm that supports religious liberty and has taken the case for the plaintiffs.
The lawsuit says 185 employees have already been terminated and 153 are on leave without pay. According to the lab’s website, LANL employs more than 10,700 people, plus students, postdoctoral researchers and union craft workers.
The eight plaintiffs are on personal leave now, but that will run out soon, Brooks said Tuesday afternoon. The lab has made no guarantee a job will be available after that or that it will hold a job open for them, Brooks said.
“We’ve seen the lab advertising for positions already,” he said.
In a similar case, a federal judge in Tennessee this month issued a temporary restraining order against the company that operates Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
Plaintiffs contend in the Los Alamos lawsuit the only “accommodation” being made for them is indefinite leave leading to termination.
The employees are not allowed to work from home now, Brooks said, though some did so through much of the pandemic.
The lawsuit says some medical exemptions were granted and individual reviews were conducted in those cases. But the lab “refused to engage in the required interactive process” regarding religious exemption requests.
The lawsuit also alleges the lab “arbitrarily and capriciously” denied the plaintiffs their religious rights and that there was no legitimate reason to apply different standards to applications for religious exemptions and medical exemptions.
It cites federal Title VII protection, which forbids discrimination on the basis of religion, and the First Amendment, which prohibits the federal government from violating religious freedom.
The suit also mentions the Americans with Disabilities Act in connection with the lab’s refusal to recognize immunity against coronavirus when a person has had the disease.
It contends the plaintiffs will suffer loss of employment, harm to their professional standing and loss of security clearances. It asks for a temporary restraining order, permanent injunction, costs, attorneys’ fees and compensatory damages.
Brooks said a hearing in the case is scheduled for Friday.