Image Credit: BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee / Facebook
Press Release –
CHATTANOOGA, TN, September 7, 2023 –
A group of employees terminated by BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee (BCBST) over a Title VII violation regarding religious discrimination pertaining to the COVID-19 vaccine mandate has obtained legal representation and has now filed a lawsuit in federal court.
A spokesman for the group says after a lengthy investigation process by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) since November 2021, the terminated employees have received their right to sue letters and have filed a class action suit in federal court.
Between October and November 2021, BCBST terminated 41 of their employees after BCBST implemented a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for 900 “customer facing roles.” Many of these 900 employees who were NOT “customer facing” were full time telecommuters and had been working from home during the entire pandemic. The livelihoods of these 900 employees were threatened if they refused to comply with BCBST’s vaccine mandate. Out of the 900, 41 refused to comply with BCBST’s mandate and were fired from their positions. Some still have yet to secure employment.
One of the 41 BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee employees from the group, Patricia P., describes her experience since being terminated:
“I still do not have a job,” she says. “I had a few interviews at first, but when the prospective employer found that I had been terminated, they either declined or did not call back. After a few months, I stopped getting calls.”
In October 2021, nineteen employees were terminated. In November 2021, twenty-two additional employees were fired weeks ahead of a Tennessee law being passed to prevent BCBST from moving forward with the mandate. Many submitted requests for religious exemptions and reasonable accommodations. Rather than provide a reasonable accommodation such as a telecommuting option (an option that was currently in place and was continuing for the entire year) or a testing option, BCBST’s response was that you have 30 days to change your deeply held religious convictions and get the shot, find a new job, or be fired. Requests for religious exemptions were ultimately denied.
One employee from the group, Kerrie I., described being terminated:
“I was a top performer dedicated to the mission of BCBST and the work of my team,” she said. “To be cast aside and treated as less than was, simply put, a slap in the face. BCBST’s decision to fire us affected me emotionally, to a point where I experienced a crisis of faith and even questioned my self-worth.”
Many others among the group share Kerrie’s sentiments, some having been with BCBST for nearly two decades. None received any severance pay; all lost years of accrued benefits and suffered humiliation and emotional distress.
Anne F., one of the 41 BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee employees from the group, describes her experience since being terminated:
“It has been very hard both emotionally and financially. I loved my position, planned on retiring from BCBST and to be discriminated against, my exemption request not accepted, and fired for this has been devastating. I’m almost 63 years old and it has been difficult for me to find another job. I feel like I was forced to retire and now we are having to sell our home.”
When asked about the news of recent developments, such as the revocation of the COVID-19 vaccine mandate for federal employees and contractors, and the reinstatement of New York workers fired for the mandate, terminated employee Matt A., employed by BCBST since April 2002, states:
“I’m glad something is being done, but remain empathetic of my former coworkers and their families – for my family – for my friends. The consequences and effects of BCBST’s actions go far beyond the day they fired us. The process was the punishment – but as difficult as this continues to be, I still wouldn’t do anything differently.”
To send messages of support to the group, donate toward the cost of legal expenses involved with the lawsuit, or for more information on the details of the terminations, please visit their Give Send Go page.
View the official complaint HERE.