Two office workers from New Jersey are suing their employers after being fired from their jobs for refusing to take a mandatory flu vaccine.
Alanda Watson and Denise Mercurius filed a lawsuit on Monday at the New Jersey Superior Court against the Lutheran Social Ministries of New Jersey, saying that their Constitutional rights had been violated.
They were fired for asserting religious objections to the flu vaccine and refusing to wear masks, they said in a filing by lawyer Alan Schorr. The lawsuit seeks reinstatement, monetary damages and attorney fees.
“What makes this case remarkably different than other recent lawsuits related to flu vaccine terminations is that Ms. Watson and Ms. Mercurious were not health care workers. They worked in the accounting department in a separate office building from private cubicles and had no patient contact whatsoever,” Schorr said in a news statement.
The women worked in the ministry headquarters, 3 Manhattan Drive in Burlington Township. The administration declined comment. Its Lutheran Crossing Enhanced Living at Moorestown provides assisted living, nursing care and rehabilitation therapy.
Watson, a Willingboro resident and 36-year-old mother of four, worked in the accounts payable department at the ministries headquarters from 2007 until she was fired Nov. 17. Mercurius, 45, of Maple Shade, was a senior accountant. Neither ever had a record of discipline nor reprimand, according to the lawsuit.
The agency adopted a flu-vaccine policy in June that did not cover office employees, but it revised the policy after Watson and Mercurius objected to the vaccine even though they agreed to wear masks if visiting one of the heath care facilities. That revision required them to wear masks at all times while at work.
New Jersey hospitals and other health facilities have been establishing vaccination policies for their workers in recent years.
The Centers for Disease Control recommends all U.S. health care workers get vaccinated annually against influenza, including clerical staff “not directly involved in patient care but potentially exposed to infectious agents that can be transmitted to and from health care workers and patients.”
Schorr said most hospital flu policies carry exemptions for a bona fide medical, religious or personal basis for refusal of the vaccine by those caring for patients. Regardless, he said flu vaccine policies have been largely ineffective at preventing the spread of influenza and that even the vaccine the past two years has been ineffective in halting the virus’ spread.
“The forced wearing of a mask for objections has been completely illogical, discriminatory and retaliatory,” he concluded.
The ministries also is an adoption agency that places infants and older children into adoptive homes through its Open Infant Adoption Program and Waiting Child Adoption Program. It also provides emergency housing for children displaced from their homes, transitional housing for women and children affected by abuse and long-term housing for developmentally disabled adults, affordable housing and daycare for the homeless.
Some of its service facilities are in other parts of the state, including Asbury Park and Jersey City.