Ex-Employees Say Michigan Surgery Center Violated Civil Rights in Vaccine Dispute

Last Friday, a half dozen former employees of Northwest Michigan Surgery Center LLC doing business as Copper Ridge Surgery Center (CRSC) filed a lawsuit against the health care provider over its purported refusal to permit them religious-based exemptions from the COVID-19 vaccine. The plaintiffs argue that the defendant fired them in violation of Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act (ELCRA) and failed to pay them non-discretionary bonuses in violation of the Federal Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

The complaint explains that the CRSC, an outpatient and elective surgery center in Traverse City, Mich., purportedly forced its employees to get vaccinated or lose their jobs. Its stated purpose in enacting the vaccine policy was to protect the health and safety of patients and employees, the lawsuit said. However, the complaint contends that the foregoing premise “strains credulity” because the facility neither requires patients nor construction workers who visit the property to be vaccinated.

Despite their exemption applications, which included “scripture and anecdotal illustrations of their sincerely held religious beliefs precluding vaccination,” CRSC purportedly determined that it was unable to reasonably accommodate the plaintiffs’ religious beliefs without imposing an undue hardship on operations.

This was after the workers allegedly experienced hostility in the workplace, including “offensive remarks from colleagues regarding their vaccination status.” The filing also points out that employees who received the vaccination were rewarded with a $500 bonus.

The lawsuit says that CRSC violated Equal Employment Opportunity Commission guidance by failing to accommodate their religious beliefs and retaliating against them, both in violation of the ELCRA. It further alleges that the plaintiffs missed out on non-discretionary performance bonuses they were entitled to under the FLSA for the three years leading up to the suit.

The lawsuit seeks a declaration that the CRSC violated the state civil rights law, the certification of an FLSA class, and asks for damages, including back pay, reinstatement or front pay, punitive damages, and compensatory damages. The plaintiffs are represented by Hurwitz Law PLLC.